Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Labor Day Grilling Menu

Labor Day weekend signifies the end of summer for many people in the U.S., but I actually enjoy the cool days of fall more than the hot, humid days of August. We still have close to two months of good grilling weather left, even in the Northern climates. Today I'm sharing an end of the summer menu that is perfect for Labor Day or any weekend when you get the urge to use your grill.

This dip doesn't use the grill but it's a great appetizer to serve while dinner is cooking.

Spinach Queso Dip

8 ounces pepper jack cheese
16 ounces Monterey Jack cheese
10 ounce frozen chopped spinach
1 medium sweet onion, diced
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 cup sour cream

Chop the cheese into small pieces. Defrost the spinach and drain. Saute the onions until softened and just starting to turn golden. Mix all of the ingredients, except for the sour cream. Microwave in 2 minute intervals, stirring each time until the mixture is smooth and melted. Stir in the sour cream. Serve with tortilla chips.

I also like this simple recipe because it uses all fresh ingredients and tastes better than anything you can buy in the store.

Pico de Gallo

5 small or 4 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1-2 Jalapeno chiles, seeded and minced
2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
salt to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a glass bowl and mix well. Serve immediately or within a couple of hours. Better at room temperature and served fresh. Serve with tortilla chips or toasted pieces of French or Italian bread.

Notes: The trick to this recipe is using ingredients that are as fresh as possible. I use sweet onion, but any type will work. You can also use other peppers besides Jalapeno but beware of their heat level. You may only need one if it's especially hot. Be careful not to touch your eyes or face after seeding the peppers until you've washed your hands well.

Spicy Grilled Shrimp

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. chili powder
1 Jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

Combine the peppers, garlic, oil, lime juice, salt in a blender or food processor and process until fairly smooth. Place the shrimp in a large resealable plastic bag, add the marinade and close the bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for about an hour. Thread on to skewers OR use a grill pan that can be put on the grill. Grill over medium heat for about 3-4 minutes, turning or stirring, until shrimp are pink and done.

Notes:I have also made a pan out of foil that has been doubled and folded on the sides. The best method I've found is the round grill pans with holes in them and a handle. The shrimp can be stirred while it's grilling.

Garlic Butter for Steaks

4 tbsp. butter, softened
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tbsp. chopped thyme
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Mix the ingredients until combined. Chill until ready to use.

To use: Grill your favorite steak until done. As soon as it's removed from the grill place on a platter, and top with a little bit of the butter. Serve
when melted.

Grilled New Potatoes

2 lbs. new red potatoes
1/4 c. butter, melted
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp. seasoned salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Scrub the potatoes, but don't peel and poke each one twice or three times with a fork. Microwave the potatoes for 4-5 minutes or so in batches of 5 or 6 depending on size. You want them to be almost tender. If potatoes are large, cut in half AFTER microwaving. Place potatoes in disposable foil pan or use a large sheet of foil that will hold the potatoes. In small bowl, combine butter, garlic, pepper and salt; pour over potatoes. Cover the pan with foil, or fold over the large sheet of foil so potatoes are enclosed. Place potatoes on a gas grill over medium heat. Cook 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are tender.

Notes: I adapted a recipe to create this one, and the timing on microwaving the potatoes is kind of tricky. Some cooks like to boil them until partially cooked, and that works fine too. What I do is cook them in the microwave as directed above using the "potato" setting. I set it at 1 potato, turn it on, then check the potatoes to see they are tender. Sometimes half of them will be ready, other won't be, so I remove the tender ones and cook a minute longer, NOT using the potato setting. Repeat until the potatoes are all tender. It's important NOT to overcook. They should be barely tender before grilling.

On OFL we have another Labor Day Menu:

Monday, August 29, 2011

Back to School Snacks

School starts the day after Labor Day in Michigan so we've started buying supplies while they are on sale. (I love those .20 notebook sales!) Things are a bit different this year at our house. My oldest moved into his dorm last week, my middle son is a senior in high school, and my daughter is going into 6th grade. I'm also considering getting a part time job in addition to my freelance writing to help out with expenses. There are a lot of changes this year, so I'm trying to prepare. Today I was going through my recipes for after school snacks, and treats I can make to send with my oldest to the dorm. Yes, he has room and board, but we know my homemade snacks are MUCH better.

Today's recipes are the ones I pulled out to make once school starts. Though the popcorn recipe at the end is calling to me to make much sooner:)

Lemon Fruit Dip
1 cup lemon pie filling
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup orange juice

Stir together and serve with fruit.

Notes: You could use other pie filling but lemon is smooth which is why it works with this recipe. Plain yogurt is used because the filling and the juice adds the sweetness.

Molasses Cookies
3/4 cup margarine
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups sifted flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 ground cloves
3/4 ground ginger

Mix the moist ingredients, then combine with the dry ingredients that have been sifted together into a bowl. Once dough is mixed form it into balls about 1 inch in size. Place 2 inches apart on greased baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes in 375 degree F. oven. Sprinkle with granulated sugar while still warm.

3/4 cup shortening
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup molasses
3 cups sifted flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger

Cream shortening and brown sugar. Add egg and molasses; beat well. Add flour, salt, soda and spices. (I like to sift them all together first). Mix well and chill for an hour or so. Form into small balls and roll in granulated sugar. Place on greased cookie sheets. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 10 minutes. Makes 9-10 dozen.

Notes: You can use dark molasses for a spicier gingersnap. I also use parchment paper on the baking sheets and spray them with cooking spray. These are the perfect cookie jar cookie!

Snack Cracker Mix
2 cups oyster crackers
1 cup mini pretzels
1 cup square cheese crackers like Cheeze-Its
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 (1 ounce) package dry Ranch-style dressing mix
1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Whisk together the oil, dressing mix, lemon pepper and garlic powder. Pour over the crackers in a large bowl, and stir until coated. Place the crackers evenly on a large baking sheet or two if needed. Bake in the preheated 275 degrees F oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool before storing in a resealable plastic bag.

Notes: I often use garlic pepper in place of the lemon pepper and garlic powder-- using 1/2-1 tsp. to spice this up. Another variation is to use garlic powder AND 1/2 tsp. of Cajun seasoning. The cracker mixture can vary depending on your family's tastes.

Popcorn Crunch
2 quarts popped corn
1 1/3 cup peanuts or other nuts
1 cup melted butter or margarine
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup corn syrup (Karo or store brand)

Cook the butter, sugar, vanilla and syrup for 10 minutes until golden brown. Pour over the popcorn and the nuts. Toss and press onto greased cookie sheet. Cool. Break up and store til eaten.

On OFL I have some great apple recipes that would make nice snacks as well: