Last weekend I went to weddings on back to back nights. Or at least I tried to. I didn't feel so great after a few hours at the second wedding and went home to take a shower and hug an air conditioner. Last week was so disgustingly hot it ruined everything. I didn't really cook anything because the last thing I wanted was the oven heating the house and I didn't want too much time tending to a 500 degree grill outside in 90 degree heat with 90% humidity. So last week was burgers, cold sandwiches, grilled chicken and pizza.

This week the weather is considerably cooler, but its a 4 day week and Lauren and I have plans for the weekend. So cooking is nearer the end of the list of priorities than usual. We're heading north to Northport, Michigan where my mom's side of the family calls home. We'll be staying in a cottage/house owned by my uncle, a couple of hundred yards (but right next door) from my grandma's house.

During the 2000 census the population of Northport was officially registered as 648. But Wikipedia says that one of those 648 is none other than Iron Chef Mario Batali. Not only that but they list the area where he owns a house and it is really, really nearby. No matter how hard I try I can't get this fantasy out of my head where we run into him (flat tire on the side of the road or something) and become good friends, if only for a long weekend.
Also, you shouldn't infer anything about where we're staying by its proximity to Mario Batali's home. My mom's family has owned those two properties for more than 30 or 40 years, long before people started clearing lakefront property up there and building million dollar summer mansions.

So this weekend in addition to hanging out with Mario Batali and swimming in Lake Michigan, we're also going to have the opportunity to go wine tasting. See all these red dots and balloons? Those are all wineries. We're staying just north of the where this map cuts off.

And just to give you an idea of the scale of this map. That natural triangular loop between Northport, Suttons Bay and Leland takes 20 mins per side to drive. So in an hour's drive time we could hit 6 or 7 wineries no problem. Madonna's family has a winery in that area, I think its the B balloon or in that area on this map.

In addition to all these we're hoping to spend some time at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as well as some time hunting for Petoskey stones on the beach at Peterson Park (a 5 min drive). Anytime you can be within 5 minutes of Lake Michigan you know you're going to have an awesome weekend.

And if all of that gets boring we can always head to the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City. I really want to a 72 hour nap and wake up to find out that its Friday morning.

Pizza Bread? Stromboli?

I don't know what you call this exactly. My intent was to make pizza bread like my mom makes it, but it really didn't turn out that way. I think it could have, but I made one giant loaf rather than two smaller ones. What she always did when I was younger was make them two at a time, cook one and freeze the other. Hers always fit nicely into a loaf pan, a much more manageable size for freezer storage. Mine did not.

I got the dough recipe from Robert Irvine's Dinner Impossible on the Food Network. However mom's pizza bread was always made with wheat bread, something that I guess helped differentiate it from stromboli or a massive pizza roll. So what I did was use half all-purpose flour and half whole wheat flour.

Pizza Bread Dough
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 (1/4-ounce) packet fresh fast-acting yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water, between 100 and 115 degrees F, as measured with a thermometer (any hotter will kill the yeast - an organic leavener; too cool and the yeast won't be activated)
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus some extra to knead the dough (I used 2 cups wheat flour and 2 cups all-purpose)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
Dissolve salt, sugar, and yeast in the warm water and allow the yeast to proof. ("Proofing" the yeast is testing it for viability. It will develop foam which looks like the head of a beer. If it doesn't proof, the yeast is dead and should be discarded.) Proofing takes about 15 minutes.

Mix the wet and dry ingredients in your stand mixer (or by hand) with the dough hook on medium speed for 4-5 minutes or until all the flour is gone and the dough is slapping around
your otherwise cleaning mixing bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and form a ball. Rub the dough ball with a tablespoon of olive oil, put it back in your mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap.

Allow the dough to rise for 45-60 minutes, so that it roughly doubles in volume (the dough has risen enough if you make an indentation with your finger and it does not spring back.). Then punch the dough down and allow it to rise again. (Allowing the dough to rise a second time gives it a finer texture.) Note: It will not rise as much the second time.

When your dough is ready, turn it out on floured surface and roll it out with a rolling pin into two 14-inch circles (or one massive square like I did).

  • 8-10 oz tomato sauce (I used Prego Organic Tomato & Basil because of its smooth, thicker texture)
  • 2 cups (1 pkg) Mozzarella cheese
  • 1 red bell pepper (diced)
  • 1 yellow bell pepper (diced)
  • 1 pkg (40?) sliced pepperoni
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 beaten egg
Saute your diced peppers in for about 5 minutes in 1tbsp olive oil. Do the same in a separate pan with your pepperoni until they are slightly crunchy. You don't have to do either of these steps, but the peppers get a little sweeter and the pepperoni just seems better when its crisp around the edges. I considered adding pineapple, but eventually decided against it because of concerns about the added moisture of the pineapple juice.

Spread your sauce and cheese around your dough, leaving a dry 1 inch perimeter around the edges. Add your toppings and then roll the whole thing up like a jelly roll. Seal the edges and put the seam side down on a baking sheet (or a loaf pan if it will fit). Brush the exterior with the beaten egg.

Bake at 450 for 15-20 minutes. Remove and let it rest for 5 minutes so the bread softens.

One thing I found out after the fact was that this super loaf didn't quite cook all the way through the center of the middlemost piece. The centermost curl of dough in that piece was still a little
doughy. So I'd advise you to make this as two smaller loaves regardless of the situation. I don't know if you can tell by the pictures, but this thing is deceptively large. It doesn't seem that way when its all spread out like a pizza. But once you start rolling it up it seems to grow exponentially.

It tasted fantastic. Fresh bread is always much better than I remember. The pizza bread/stromboli makes for great leftovers and you can put pretty much whatever you want inside it. Just make sure the ingredients are cooked to your liking before they go in. Its also a really cheap way to make dinner. In the future I'll make an actual pizza using that same dough. I always though pizza dough was more complicated than that, but I guess all it takes is the right amount of patience.

Moroccan Grilled Salmon

Earlier this week I saw an episode of Good Eats about salmon and the various ways to prepare it. When it comes to salmon Lauren and I pretty regularly (twice a month on average) make the blackened salmon burgers I've posted here before. I'm not a big fish eater, especially when it comes to fishy fish like salmon, but those salmon burgers are unbelievable.

On Friday I was perusing the Summer Grilling section of and found another intriguing (but simple) use for salmon.
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • Juice of 1 lemon, plus lemon wedges for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the grill
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 6-ounce skinless center-cut salmon fillets
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley, for garnish
Stir together the yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, coriander, cumin, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Pour HALF OF THE SAUCE into a large resealable plastic bag; cover and refrigerate the remaining sauce. Add the salmon to the bag and turn to coat with the marinade. Refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes, turning the bag over once.

Preheat a grill to medium-high. Remove the salmon from the marinade and blot off excess yogurt with paper towels. Lightly oil the grill and add the salmon; cook, turning once, until browned on the outside and opaque in the center, 4 to 6 minutes per side, depending on the thickness. Serve with the RESERVED YOGURT SAUCE and garnish with the herbs and lemon wedges.

The next thing I need to get is a non-stick fish basket for grilling. Its not a problem with the salmon burgers presumably because of the spices and butter, but with this recipe it is a tricky proposition. Our fish was sticking to the grill like crazy. It also didn't help that I forgot to use the non-stick olive oil spray on the grill beforehand, but by the time it was all said and I done I think we lake at least 1/2 a fillet to sticking.

The fish was excellent, but I did not reserve enough yogurt sauce for the leftovers. I used two cups of 4oz dannon plain yogurt (5/$2 ) rather than buying one of those huge 32 oz plain yogurt containers. After making this recipe I am sure you could also use greek yogurt. The combination of yogurt, garlic and lemon has a very familliar Mediterranean flavor.

We used a 1.7 lb salmon filet cut into six smaller filets, which meant we needed to use slightly more than 1/2 cup yogurt for our sauce. The only thing I didn't have from the recipe was the ground coriander. I'm not sure what else it can be used for, but if you don't have ground cumin it is pretty useful in burgers, chili, white chili and meat loaf recipes.

We served the salmon with grilled corn, grilled asparagus and Zatarain's Rice Pilaf.

Weekends With A Dog

If things slow down a bit on the blog this summer, its because of Lauren's dog Jocelyn. She is relentless in her desire to play outside, and if you don't play often enough Lauren will come home to find shoes, the garbage can, a remote control (whatever she can reach), strewn about her bedroom. So in order to keep that from happening we take her to the dog park or out into the backyard to as often as possible. Then, while we're outside playing we usually fire up the grill and make simple foods and things I've already blogged about. The video above is from Sunday afternoon in the backyard. Lauren shot the video, while I'm off camera to the right throwing the ball.

The picture below is what Joss looked like around 7pm, giving us the opportunity to make and eat dinner without a hyperactive dog barking orders at us.

Beer Can Chicken

This weekend was pretty busy for me. Friday night Lauren had a going away party for some friends which made for a late night. Then Saturday we helped them move their stuff on to a truck, which is always longer and more tedious than you mentally prepare for. Saturday night we were scheduled to babysit an infant but that got scrapped at the last minute. Not that I'm doubting the story we were told by the parents, but I get the feeling that fate stepped in and said "Ba is not ready for that just yet. Sure it seems like a good idea to him now, but he's not going to know what do after 25 minutes".

Sunday was good. I watched Spain whip New Zealand 5-0 in the Confederations Cup, played outside, made a meal I've been wanting to try for a while and then watched The Pursuit Of Happyness backwards. The movie was on TNT back to back, but the first time through I only caught the second half of the movie. Then when it restarted I decided to watch the first half. Watching that movie in this manner really takes some emotion of the storyline. Rather than feeling sad about Chris Gardner being homeless you just watch and say "whats that stupid thing he is lugging around with him everywhere?" and "he seems like a smart guy, I wonder how he got homeless". I sort of recommend it.

Anyhow, for dinner Sunday I made beer can chicken. It was quite simple:
  • 1 fresh roaster chicken (4-5 lbs)
  • 5-6 tsp McCormick Grill Mates Chicken Dry Rub
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 12 oz can of beer
Remove the giblets (they are wrapped in paper, resting inside the chicken cavity). Rinse the chicken, pat it dry with paper towel. Rub the chicken skin and cavity with oil. Then sprinkle/rub with 5 tsp of seasoning (4 on the exterior, 1 inside the cavity). Take a large sip (3-4 oz) of beer. Pour the 6th teaspoon of seasoning in the beer and set it down in a roasting pan.

Slide the chicken on top of your beer can. Amazingly it fits very snugly. Just adjust the rib cage so it gets over the lip of the can and then position the legs for added stability.

Roast at 350 for about 90 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165 degrees.

It was pretty good. The chicken was very tender and flavorful. The meal was very cheap and simple, I think it cost me $9 total, including the dry rub and a box of rice. But ultimately it suffered from the same issues as any whole/rostisserie chicken meal. How much work do you really want to do to separate skin from chicken and chicken from bone in order make yourself a plate of food? And what do you do with the leftovers?

Curly Fries

Sunday afternoon I got the propane tank refilled, and Sunday even grilling promptly resumed. We had been on a 2 week hiatus because mentally I didn't want to have to spend that +$23 just to have grilled chicken. But eventually I talked myself into bringing the tank to U-Haul and getting it refilled rather than doing the Blue Rhino tank swap. That saved me about $8, and according to U-Haul it gave me more propane too.

So yesterday we decided on burgers. I won't waste your time talking about how to make a hamburger. I was walking by the frozen potatoes aisle planning on tater tots when I saw Ore Ida curly fries. I figured it might be possible to Google a recipe for the seasoning used on Arby's Curly fries. Also I really wanted those springy phone cord curly fries. Here is what I found:

Curly Fries Seasoning
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp onion powder
Cook your fries per the instructions on the package. With 5 minutes left in your bake time, sprinkle the hot fries with seasoning.

I wouldn't say that this makes them taste exactly like Arby's Curly fries. They look the part quite a bitter better than they play it. I think the seasoning could use some salt, and in the future I'd probably cut the cayenne in half or switch it out with another spice altogether. I'm sure not having an industrial fryer also changes the flavor a little bit. Still, the recipe works out as a solid homemade seasoning for French fries. As for the fries themself, those packages don't really contain curly fries, so much as they contain curved french fries. There were a few in there, but in my opinion it takes two curves or at least 270 degrees of curvature to be classified as curly.

Hawaiian Chicken Kebabs

I spent Saturday afternoon attempting to give Lauren's old bicycle a tuneup. About a month ago she got a brand new hybrid road bike and on weekends she usually takes it out for a ride. Prior to this weekend I had no idea she had an old bike in the basement, so we took it out, dusted it off and planned to take it for a ride. I went to the store, got some CLR (Calcium, Lime, Rust remover), WD-40 and an allen wrench set.

So we used a toothbrush and applied CLR to the chain and gears, washed it off, sprayed some WD-40 and then took the bikes out for a ride. Keep in mind this was a bike Lauren got maybe 8-10 years ago by her estimate. So the bike is a little bit small, and for most of the ride I felt like a bear riding a tricycle. The ride was good, aside from the fact that I couldn't really ever fully extend my legs. Also I think the rear brakes were rubbing the tire a little bit, so it was basically like being on a mobile spin bike.

Which leads me to the tuneup. I was so convinced that the bike was in need of a tuneup (as opposed to just being a bike made 10 years ago) that I brought it outside, grabbed a ratchet set and the WD-40 and began loosening, tightening and lubricating every part I could look at and understand. For the better part of 2 hours I did all of this and it made zero difference. In fact if anything I made the issue with the rear brake even worse. I relaxed some of the tension so that the rear brake handle was easier to press, but in the process I loosened or tightened something to the point that the brake doesn't relax from the wheel when you release the brake handle. It is very frustrating. I think about it multiple times a day and it still bothers me. Bikes aren't that complex. This should be easy. If I don't find a bigger bike on Craigslist in the next few days, I'm going to take another crack at the grease monkey thing and see if I can't figure out that rear brake.

Since most of my energy this weekend was spent being a faux mechanic, not much was spent in the kitchen. Saturday night we made chicken caesar salad, and last night we made Hawaiian Chicken Kebabs:
  • Lawry's Hawaiian Marinade
  • 1.5 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast (chunked)
  • 1 large vidalia onion (chunked)
  • 1 sweet bell pepper (red/yellow/orange, chunked)
  • 1 pineapple (chunked)
  • BBQ sauce
Take your chicken chunks, marinate them for 15-30 minutes. Marinate your veggies separate from the chicken for 10 minutes. Proper kebab technique says you compose you skewer by ingredient, cook, then reassemble as a finished product. This ensures even cook times and contact with the grill surface, which leads to even charring. We don't bother. Handling the food more just means a bigger mess and a larger possibility of burning a finger.

Throw your skewers on the grill at medium-high heat for 10-12 minutes total, turning once, maybe twice to get charring on all sides. Just before you turn the skewers, brushing them with a little bit of BBQ sauce for added color.

Along with the skewers we had grilled asparagus (a summertime staple) and yellow rice. Grilled pineapple is obviously great, but the surprise for me was the grilled vidalia onion. It was so good that it made me consider roasting whole vidalia onions as a part of a future dish.

Zucchini Bread

I happened to find some zucchini at Meijer last night, so I made zucchini bread. Last week when I made banana bread, I made two loaves and three mini-loaves. The two big loaves went with me to jury duty, but only one got eaten. So for the whole weekend I had a delicious breakfast/midnight snack ready and waiting. That was the idea behind making the zucchini bread, but I can already tell its not going to last that long.

You may find the recipe to be very familiar. If this recipe seems really fattening, its partially because this one yields two 9 x 5 loaves, whereas the banana bread recipe yields only one:
  • 1 1/8 cups white sugar
  • 1 1/8 cups brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (or 2 sticks softened butter)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups chopped zucchini
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 325. Cream the butter and sugar (or just mix if you're using oil), add the eggs and vanilla and stir to combine. Add the chopped zucchini (do not dry/drain). Whisk together your dry ingredients, then add them to the wet ingredients, stir until just combined. Top with walnuts, or mix them into the batter. 

Pour into two greased 9 x 5 inch pans and bake at 325 for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick in the center comes out clean.

For the zucchini I just washed it, diced it and then pulsed it in a food processor. Last year before Lauren had a food processor we just diced the zucchini and mixed it in chunky. There was no difference in taste and I think it may have provided a little extra moisture.

That picture isn't my banana bread. The battery in my camera died last night as I was lining up my photo.