Vanilla Smoked Porter French Toast with Warm Chocolate Stout sauce

June 30th was Chris’s birthday. Now you’re probably thinking that because Chris was lucky enough to land a hot, awesome, sexy, smart, funny women who loves to cook, there would all kinds of wonderful dishes made in honor of his big day. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. We returned from our vacation on the 23rd of June to a packed social calendar which included concert tickets on his actual birthday so there’s was no time for home cooked meals. Still I wanted to do something, so I promised Chris that the first opportunity I had I would make him a super special breakfast. That opportunity didn’t present itself until July 12th, but I think I made up for it.

I often surprise Chris with something a little special for breakfast on Saturday mornings like breakfast burritos, shakshouka or bacon egg and cheese sandwiches so I really wanted to make this breakfast extra special. I turned to one of my favorite blogs, The Beeroness, and found a recipe for Vanilla Bean Smoked Porter French Toast. I was intrigued. I’m not the biggest french toast fan, but this breakfast was supposed to be all about Chris and this recipe sounded like something he’d enjoy.

The original recipe called for Stone Smoked Porter with Vanilla, (which sounds delicious btw) but I think it’s seasonal or was a limited addition and I couldn’t find it anywhere. No worries, I just picked up a bottle of Evil Twin Ashtray Heart smoked porter and figured I could add some vanilla extract. I also decided to pick up some challah rather than the crusty Italian bread the original recipe called for.

Then I was presented with another dilemma; the recipe calls for 2/3 cup of beer, which leaves me with just over half a bottle of beer. Now my normal reaction to leftover beer from cooking is drink it! But drinking a 8.9% abv beer first thing in the morning seemed ill advised so I grabbed some semi-sweet chocolate chips and decided to whip up a chocolate beer sauce too.

I didn’t really pay attention to the proportions when I made the sauce so I can’t give you much of a recipe, but if you possess the most basic cooking knowledge you should be able to handle it. I reduced the beer in a small saucepan until it had thickened and become more syrup-y. Then I took it off the heat and whisked in a whole lot of chocolate chips and a pinch of salt until it looked thick and tasted good. Then I whisked in some cubes of butter (probably about a tablespoon) and that was it.

The dish was hit and Chris was a happy belated birthday boy!

Vanilla Smoked Porter French Toast
(Adapted ever so slightly from The Beeroness)

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup smoked porter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 Tablespoons buttes (plus additional as needed for cooking)
  • Challah bread cut in thick slices
  • Warm Chocolate Porter sauce (see above)

In a mixing bowl whisk together milk, beer, sugar, eggs and vanilla until well combines.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium high heat.

Dip each slice of bread in the wet mixture until coated but not soggy.

Working in batches, add challah slices to the pan and cook until browned e, about 2-3 minutes per side.

Transfer slices to plate and pour chocolate sauce over them. I also added sliced strawberries for good measure.

Enjoy!
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Colorado: Bison Tacos (with green chilies, obv)

Colorado

flag

Population: 5,268,367
Capital: Denver
Admission to the Union: August 1, 1876
Source: Wikipedia

With my recent trip to Colorado fresh in my mind, is it any wonder that Colorado would be the next dish I made for the 50 States project?

Before I’d ever visited Colorado, this is what I knew about the food there; they, like their neighboring states of New Mexico and Arizona, put green chilies on everything. This is what I learned after visiting Colorado; tacos seem to be a religion there and Bison (aka American Buffalo) is featured on every menu. So it only made sense that my Colorado inspired meal would be Bison Tacos and of course they had to include green chilies which then begged the question, what are “green chilies”?

 I cook with chilies fairly often and can easily find Serranos and Jalapenos, Habeneros and Shishitos; but here in the Northeast I’ve never seen anything labeled just “green chili.” I needed to find out how I could procure the correct “green chili” from someone in the know so I text Dan who suggested I pick up a can of Hatch green chilies. According to Dan I could look for fresh long green chilies and roast them myself, but the canned ones work well in place of that. Luckily it was no problem finding Hatch green chilies at the supermarket.

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Next I needed to grab some ground bison meat, which is really easy to find here. In fact all of the ingredients I needed were easy to find except for one. Every single supermarket I went to was out of Cotija cheese! At Whole Foods I was told that they should have more next week. Chris was nice enough to try at another local supermarket known for their great cheese department and was told that they hadn’t gotten any Mexican cheeses in a month! I made due by using a combination of Feta and Asiago which makes a reasonable substitute for Cotija, but Chris and I have dubbed this incident, The Great Mexican Cheese Shortage of Summer 2014.

If you’ve never cooked with bison before, here’s what you should know; bison is very similar in flavor to beef, but it is a much leaner meat. Because of the lack of fat in bison, you want to make sure to have plenty of liquid when you’re using it in a recipe that requires it to be fully cooked. I decided that the liquid I would use would be a beer and of course it had to be a Colorado beer so I picked up a can of Dale’s Pale Ale. If you want to keep this recipe gluten free though, I think beef broth would work well.

Chris and I loved these and this will officially be my new go to taco recipe. I also think it would be just as good with beef or turkey so don’t worry if bison isn’t readily available near you.

Bison Tacos

For the taco meat:

  • Oil for cooking
  • 1/2 a medium onion finely minced
  • 1lb ground Bison
  • 1/2 cup beer or beef broth (recommended: Dale’s Pale Ale)
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 Tablespoon Chili Powder
  • 1 Tablespoon ground Cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried Oregano
  • 2 teaspoons cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Smoked Spanish Paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Coriander
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • large pinch of Cayenne
  • Salt and Pepper

To serve:

  • Corn or wheat tortillas (we used corn)
  • 1 can Hatch green chilies
  • Chopped tomatoes
  • Chopped onion
  • Thinly sliced radishes
  • Shredded Romaine lettuce
  • Sliced avocado
  • Grated Cotija cheese
  • Cilanto
  • lime wedges

PicMonkey Collage

Heat a little oil a sauté pan, add onion and cook until the onion has begun to soften and turn translucent; about 3-54 minutes.

Add the bison, breaking it up as and cook until all the meat has begun to brown then pour most of the accumulated fat off and return the pan to the stove.

Add beer a stir. Allow to cook for about 4-5 minutes, until most of the liquid is gone.

Stir in the tomato paste and all remaining ingredients and cook for one more minute or just long enough for the tomato paste and spices to be incorporated in to the meat.

Assemble and enjoy!

Serves 4-6

I've got to toot my own horn on this one. So good!!

I’ve got to toot my own horn on this one. So good!!

Telluride: part 3

Since my last post focused mainly on the Bluegrass festival, I’ll focus this post on non- festival related things.

I had dinner with my friend Kate last week and she asked me what my favorite thing about Colorado. “That’s easy,” I replied, “the stars!”

On our first night in Telluride we were walking back to the gondola and when we got to a particularly dark stretch of road, free of street lights, Chris told me to look up. I gasped. I have never in my life seen that many stars. That is by far what I’ll miss the most. I wish I could see those stars every night of my life and I made sure to look up and appreciate them every night.

Our first two full days in Telluride were mostly spent going in and out of the festival, but we mixed it up on our last two days.

On Saturday we relaxed and lounged around the condo for a bit before heading out for a hike. My amazing friends Becky and Ben were back home in DC participating in the Walk of Hope in memory of their daughter Cecelia Grace and many of us around the US and Canada took our own walks in solidarity.

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#walkforcece

#walkforcece

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The scenery was absolutely stunning and it was a great way to show Becky and Ben our support and to honor Cecilia Grace. After our hike we cleaned ourselves up and headed back to the festival.

When we got in to town Chris decided to stop at Baked in Telluride for a doughnut. As we waited to pay we noticed this sign at the register and had quite a laugh. I’m pretty sure there are like 4 Jewish people in all of Telluride, including Ralph Lauren who has a house there, but us New Jersey Jews really get around, huh?

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On Sunday there was no one we particularly wanted to see at the Bluegrass festival until the “house band,” who would close the show so we planned a day of activities. We started the day out with another hike. This one brought us 10,000 miles up to Bear Creek Falls. The last 100 feet of this hike is a bit more challenging as the path up to the falls becomes narrow and you have to hop over some streams and climb over some fallen tree branches to get there, but it was totally worth it for these views.

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Unfortunately, what goes up must come down. As a New Yorker who walks all the time, the distance of this hike, about 5 miles round trip, didn’t intimidate me at all. And walking uphill, well you’re excreting yourself more than on a typical New York City sidewalk, but I can handle that. Downhill though, that’s another story. I am a huge klutz and not known for my grace, elegance or balance. I was pretty much terrified on those first 100 feet back down from the falls, but I stayed calm while Chris helped guide me and I managed to climb down without inflicting serious or even minor injury on myself. I’ve been known to inflict injuries on myself while walking from the bedroom to the bathroom so this was quite and accomplishment for me.

After our hike we cleaned up and headed in to Telluride to watch the US vs. Portugal World Cup match. (Please note that I have not mentioned World Cup at all in my previous posts because I’m so depressed about how it all turned out. I really thought we’d make it to the quarter finals this time. Sigh…)

We met Dan and a bunch of other friends who’d left the festival to watch the game at a local “pizza” place. The place was so packed that I wondered if anyone at all was still at the festival! Our large group gathered around a very small table, ordered drinks and settled in to cheer on Team USA. At this point Chris and I were starving and ready for some food so we ordered the boneless spicy bbq wings which were delicious.

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Chris and I actually both prefer bone-in wings, but there were so may of us gathered around this small table that Chris and I had to hold the basket in our laps and so we went for the easier option. The things we do for our love of food and soccer!

After the bittersweet game we headed back to the gondola to get back to our condo. For days we’d been seeing a cart in front of the gondola station advertising, “Teddy’s Doughnuts,” and Chris decided it was time to try some. As he was placing his order a thought occurred to me and I asked the woman frying the doughnuts if she was the owner. She answered that she was so I told her about my allergies and she assured me that her doughnuts were safe for me.

We ordered the cinnamon sugar doughnuts which she served us hot right out of the fryer. They were so good! The doughnuts weren’t very sweet at all and they were so light that they melted in our mouths. I’m also a huge fan of cinnamon sugar and loved licking it off my fingers like a little kid

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After freshening up at the condo we headed back to the festival to watch the house band, which featured; Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Del McCoury, Alison Krauss and others, close out the show. The band was great! We danced and soaked up the last of all the great live music before heading back to our condo for our final night sleeping in the mountains.

The next morning we were up and out bright and early for our 6 hour drive back to the Denver airport to catch our flight home.

This was a truly magical trip and I miss Colorado already. I visited Alaska in 2006 and that is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, but Telluride is a very close second and I feel blessed to have been able to spend time there.

Where is the most beautiful place you’ve ever been?

Telluride: Part 2

I decided to make the focus of this post the festival itself and focus the next post on non-festival related things.

On our first full day in Telluride, we made ourselves a quick breakfast at our condo and then hopped on the gondola to take us down the mountain and in to town to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

The gondola was an interesting experience. Mostly I didn’t find it too scary during the day, though I was not a big fan of that stomach dropping feeling you got when it first started heading down the mountain. The gondola at night, now that was a different story. You are in the mountains! At night! It’s pitch black! You are hanging from a cord above a mountain in a glass bubble and you can’t see the hand in front of your face. Need I say more?

During the day however, you got to take in some beautiful scenery from the gondola and you got to meet some interesting people like this guy:

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The dog’s name was Rudy and he was the friendliest, cuddliest little guy ever. In what may have been the cutest event I have ever witnessed, Rudy climbed up on the bench next to Chris and put his little head on Chris’s lap. Chris started petting him and the little boy who was with Rudy looked at Chris very seriously and said, “I think he likes you.” I’m pretty sure that’s the very definition of totes adorbs. Good thing Chris and I are both dog lovers.

My first glimpse at Telluride during the day did not disappoint. As I said earlier, it’s a great little town which is surrounded by these views.

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Even the festival itself had a stunning backdrop.

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Food was a little tough for me in this environment, but I packed some snacks from our condo and was also able to eat some “pizza” and grilled corn at the festival. Chris was super excited though, to get these chicken and basil dumplings which are apparently amazing and one of the highlights of the festival for many. They contain lots of stuff that I’m allergic to so they were a no no for me, but I was glad to see Chris enjoy them.

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For me the highlight of the festival was meeting The Lone Bellow!! They are one of my favorite bands and I highly recommend checking them out. The members of the band all live in Brooklyn and the female in the group, Kanene Pipkin, and I actually have a friend in common. They were so nice and it was so fun to talk about our shared love of Brooklyn and our mutual friend.

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Days two, three and four of the festival was much the same; great music, extraordinary weather, not so great “pizza” , Chris alternating between dumplings and chicken tacos and sunsets that looked like this.

sunset

Chris kept worrying about me, as this festival definitely skews hippie and I’m decidedly un-hippie (for the record he’s pretty damn un-hippie too), but I love live music and generally I enjoy a festival atmosphere. My only issue with this festival is that because of the dry mountain climate and all the people dancing, there is dust everywhere. It gets in your eyes and nose and you need to scrub it off of yourself when you get back to where you’re staying. Still the pleasures of the music and the atmosphere far outweighed any of the annoyances.

Do you enjoy live music? Have you ever had the opportunity to meet one of your favorite artists?

Telluride: Part one

Telluride was the longest and best portion of our trip, but I think it’s going to have the shortest amount of blog time dedicated to it. This is a food blog and I have nothing much to tell you about any special food I ate on this portion of the trip so I guess I’ll try and turn this in to a travel blog for now and hope that my words and pictures can convey to you how absolutely amazing Telluride is, though I don’t think they can.

We woke up bright and early on Wednesday morning, grabbed breakfast at our hotel in Denver and headed over to pick up our rental car. Does the idea of two New Yorkers who don’t drive at all, driving 6 hours through the mountains scare you at all, because it sure scared us! It was ridiculously expensive to add me to the insurance too; so Chris, who hadn’t driven in 2 years, drove the entire 6 hours. Luckily, he did great. I swear I’m not saying that because I’m all googley-eyed in love, he really did great.

So we had a nice ride, snacks, music on the radio and more importantly, stunning scenery. Seriously, if you ever have the opportunity to drive through the mountains in Colorado, take it.

drive

We were eager to get up to Telluride, especially since we found out that one of our favorite bands, The Lone Bellow, would be playing a free show that night as part of the festival we were attending, so we didn’t plan to stop much. We made one stop at a supermarket to pick up some food since we’d be staying at a condo with a kitchen. Our only other stop was for a late lunch at Horsefly Brewing Company in Montrose, Co; about an hour and a half from Telluride. Though I understand that sometimes when you’re on a long car trip your best and only option may be a chain restaurant on the side of the highway, but if it can be managed I far prefer places like Horsefly; local and unique.

We both had the patty melt and fries and I had a beer while Chris had there homemade root beer since he was driving.

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We arrived at our condo in Mountain Village in the late afternoon and we were greeted by these views.

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We quickly freshened up and headed part way down the mountain via the gondola to check out the Lone Bellow show!

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After a great show we hopped on the gondola again and headed further down the mountain where I got my first glimpse of the actual town of Telluride. One of the many things that makes Telluride such a spectacular place is that it’s surrounded by unimaginable beauty and then the town itself is filled with all these lovely shops and restaurants so it’s the best of both worlds.

We met up with Dan and some other friends and Chris grabbed a quick bite before we headed back up to our condo where we got right in to bed for some much needed rest.

Do you often take long road trips? Do you enjoy driving?

Denver (and Boulder): Part 2

Picking up where I left off last week.

On Tuesday morning, our second day in Colorado, we decided to head to Boulder. Boulder is only about an hour’s bus ride from Denver. I’d been told by a number of people that Boulder was worth a visit and Chris, who’d been there before, concurred so off we went.

This is what greeted us on arrival.

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Not bad, huh?

Boulder immediately had a different feel to me than Denver did. First, it’s the home the University of Colorado so it’s got a bit of a college town feel. Second, it’s much smaller than Denver and felt more like a big town than a small city. We strolled the main drag and flitted in and out of all these adorable little shops before heading to the pedestrian mall to stroll some more.

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Finally we’d worked up an appetite and since we’re craft beer lovers, Chris wanted to take me to the Mountain Sun Brew Pub.

Mountain Sun operates under a very cool concept; every employee there does every job. So the person taking your order may have cooked the food yesterday and may be washing dishes tomorrow. I really like this idea as it gives everyone an appreciation for each job and an understanding of how the whole process works. We each had a super delicious beer and Chris ordered a burger, his theme of this trip, while I went with the blackened chicken quesadilla.

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The quesadilla was really fresh and tasty and they served it with plenty of guacamole and spicy green chilies, both of which are sure ways to my heart.

Fueled up on food and beer, we decided to take a walk/hike along the Boulder Creek Path. The reasons I refer to is as a walk/hike rather than a hike are twofold. First, parts of it are paved liked sidewalk while parts are dirt path. Second, I was wasn’t prepared for a hike and was wearing those super flat thong-type sandals. Though the terrain was pretty flat, my feet were killing me by the end. Still, I kept insisting we go just a bit further as the pain in my feet was worth it for the views.

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Finally, it was time to head back to Denver.

We were exhausted and hungry by the time we got back to Denver so after quickly freshening up at the hotel we headed out to dinner. We ended up at Lucky Pie, which Dan had recommended to us.

Now I must digress. You may have heard me talk about Pizza vs. “pizza” on this blog before so let me just give you a quick refresher. In New York and New Jersey we eat Pizza. In the majority of the rest of the country they eat some sort of cheese/bread/sauce combinations which they refer to as pizza, but which is actually “pizza.” Here’s something important to note though, while “pizza” is not Pizza, it is comprised of carbs and cheese so it’s very often delicious in it’s own right. Ok back to my previously scheduled posting….

We started out by splitting the braised lamb meatballs with fresh mozzarella.

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The meatballs were delicious and the texture was perfect. As Jersey kids, Chris and I are pretty particular about all Italian-American food and we both gave Lucky Pie’s marinara high marks.

For the main act we ordered the Napolitana pizza which featured spicy salami, chilies, roasted garlic and smoked mozzarella.

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As expected it was “pizza” and not Pizza, but man what delicious “pizza” it was! The spicy salami and chilies had just enough kick which was balanced perfectly with the rich, slightly smokey cheese and just a hint of sweetness from the roasted garlic. It was a meal we both very much enjoyed.

After dinner we took a quick stroll down Denver’s 16th street pedestrian mall. I didn’t see much of Denver so I don’t have much to go on, but the 16th street mall was my favorite part. I love how cities in Europe so often have pedestrian malls and I wish more major American cities had them. A big thumbs up to Denver for having a pedestrian mall.

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At this point we were walking zombies and were ready to call it a night especially as we planned to be up bright and early the next day for our 6 hour drive to Telluride.

Have you ever visited Boulder, Co? If so, what was your impression of it? Do you enjoy pedestrian friendly cities or do you prefer being in your car?

The 4th though food

I know that I still need to finish my vacation recaps (I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet), but I took so many pictures of food this weekend that I wanted to share. I should warn you that most of the pictures are pretty crappy, but oh well.

Our festivities actually started out on Thursday night when we decided to grab dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Colicchio and Sons Tap Room. The food and atmosphere are fantastic, the service is flawless and since we’re regulars we always get hooked up with extras. You can’t really best that can you?

We sat at the bar to chat with our favorite bartender, Bennett. After we ordered, we were given an amuse bouche. Generally you only get an amuse bouche if you sit the more formal Main Dining Room in the back, but we often get them in the Tap Room as a perk of being a regular.

Chris was given a scallop crudo with peach. The picture that I took didn’t come out so you’ll have to use your imagination, but Chris reported that the dish was delicious. Since I’m allergic to peaches, I was given an amuse bouche of pickled vegetables which included radish, turnip, carrot and a celery leaf. It was so delish. The veggies were all so crunchy and fresh with the perfect sweet/sour/briny flavor.

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For an appetizer Chris and I split the burrata with rhubarb lavender and pink peppercorns. This is a dish they’ve had all through rhubarb season in 3 different slightly different variations and it will be gone soon as rhubarb season comes to an end. We’ve actually had it in all 3 variations and it’s been delicious every time (though we both think the variation with chorizo was the best). The creamy, luscious burrata pairs perfectly with the tart/sweet rhubarb.

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Next up Chris ordered the halibut with zucchini and tomato jam and I ordered the skate with Peekytoe crab, citrus and radish. Let me tell you, these people know how to cook fish. Skate is probably my favorite fish and I honestly don’t think anyone does as we’ll as Colicchio and Sons Tap Room. The skate is always perfectly cooked; firm, but never dry and I particularly love this preparation with the crunchy, slightly peppery radish and juicy sweet citrus.

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Halibut

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Skate

For dessert we decided to split the chocolate with graham cracker crumbs, toasted marshmallow ice cream and raspberries.

Confession: I am in love with a chocoholic. Chris loves chocolate like I love strawberries. Now, if you follow this blog at all you know that I’m “meh” on chocolate. I don’t dislike chocolate, I just don’t get what all the hype is about. To me chocolate is just ok. I like chocolate as an accompaniment to things, but I’m not a fan of chocolate desserts as I usually find them too chocolatey. I was intrigued by the toasted marshmallow ice cream though and I love graham crackers so I wanted to try this dessert. I figured Chris could have most of the chocolate semifreddo part.

O. M. F. G. First time ever that I have loved a chocolate dessert. The semifreddo was so smooth and lush and while it would normally be a tad too chocolatey for me, it was perfection when mixed with the ice cream, which really tasted like toasted marshmallow, and the graham cracker crumbs and raspberries. I’m still dreaming about this dessert days later.

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As if all that wasn’t enough we were given a complimentary glass of dessert wine and then another complimentary cocktail when we got the check. They take good care of us!

On Friday, July 4th, we mostly took it easy as it was raining, but in the late afternoon the rain cleared and we hopped on a bus to my parents house in New Jersey. In the summertime my mom puts everything on the grill and what better way to celebrate America than with grilled food.

I had requested that she make a grilled caeser for a starter, but then I forgot to take a picture of it. Grrr. Have you ever had or made a grilled caeser? It’s amazing! You slice a romaine hearts in half lengthwise, brush them with a little olive oil and then grill them until they are just slightly charred. They get that great caramelized and their sweetness comes out paired with that chargrilled flavor. Serve them whole (this is a salad that you have to cut with a knife and fork) with caeser or another heavy dressing, a few croutons and a bit of grated parm.

My mom grilled a ton of veggies throughout the day so that we could pick what we wanted and bring leftovers home. She grilled peppers, asparagus, onions, eggplant and sweet potatoes which are my favorite grilled vegetable.


She also boiled up some Jersey sweet corn because, like all food Jersey people, we love our local sweet corn.

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And she grilled steak and sautéed up some Hen of the Woods mushrooms. Phew.

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Dessert was all me and I decided to make strawberry dumpling. This is a recipe I got a few years ago from Gourmet magazine and I’ve heard it’s a big thing in the South. Basically you slice strawberries and mix them with sugar, when they give off there juice you bring that to a boil. You mix up a basic dumpling dough of flour, baking powder salt and milk, drop it in to the boiling berries, stir, pop a lid on it and leave it alone for 15 minutes. The dumpling mixture rises to the top and becomes light and airy. You scoop it out and serve it warm with some cold cream poured over it. I love it and it’s the kind of dessert my family loves as it’s light and not very sweet.

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After dinner we went to watch the fireworks.

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Of course we left with a ton of leftovers which meant steak sandwiches for dinner last night! I sliced the steak and served it on a crusty baguette with honey-balsamic onions, sharp cheddar and horseradish sauce. They were quite delish. I’ll also be eating grilled veggies for the rest of the week. Yum!

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I’m a huge fan of food, America and spending time with my boyfriend so it was a great weekend.

How was your weekend? Did you eat anything especially delicious?