Spicy Grilled Wings with Blue Cheese Dip

As you may know, I don't eat a lot of meat.  I'm usually not a fan of eating anything with a face.  However there are a few exceptions to my disgust at eating animal flesh.  Bacon, for one.  I mean, bacon  isn't really considered meat anyway, right?  Another of my carnivorous weaknesses is hot dogs.  And aren't they kind of the worst animal bi-product one could ever eat?  Hooves and snouts ground up and piped into a casing?  Nasty!  But a dog grilled until charred nestled in a steamed bun is fabulous.  And let's not forget chicken wings.  Crispy, saucy deep-fried wings are amazing.  But heating 87 gallons of hot oil sucks ass.

I prefer to grill my wings.  You still get the crunchy skin and a bit of smokiness. Not to mention that much of the fat drips off the little suckers so I'm certain they're totally healthy.  At least that's how I justify eating my weight in grilled wings.  I love this recipe for Spicy Grilled Wings.  It is indeed spicy, so back off some of the ingredients if you're not into it.  Pair it with a creamy and tangy blue cheese dip and you've got fire and ice nirvana.

The blue cheese dip can be made a couple of days ahead of time if you want.  And for any leftovers, it makes a killer salad dressing.  By the way, the other night we ate those spicy wings like cavemen and totally spaced the blue cheese dressing. That's how good they are.

Be sure to brine the chicken.  It's easy to overcook and dry out the small wings on the grill so brining insures they are moist and flavorful even if you are enjoying sipping your beer and forget about the wings.

Spicy Grilled Wings with Blue Cheese Dip
Makes about 3 dozen wings and 1-1/2 c. dip

Spicy Grilled Wings:

4 lb. chicken wings (wing tip section removed)
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. salt
4 quarts water
1 c. Louisiana hot sauce
12 oz. cola
1 T. soy sauce
1/4-1/2 t. cayenne pepper

To brine the chicken, use either a very large bowl or (as I did) 2 gallon Ziploc bags.  In each bag, carefully pour 2 quarts of cold water.  Add 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup salt to each bag and stir to dissolve.  Add chicken, seal well, and set aside for 30-60 minutes.  Now would be a good time to make the blue cheese dip if you haven't already.

Meanwhile, mix hot sauce, cola, soy sauce, cayenne, and pepper.  Divide in half or so.  You'll use one part to baste chicken and another to sauce after grilling, if desired.

Heat grill until hot.  Scrape down grates.

After 30-60 minutes of brining, drain, rinse and pat dry wings.

Using tongs, dip a paper towel in vegetable oil and oil grates.  Grill wings over medium heat, turning and basting frequently with reserved sauce.  The wings will take 10-20 minutes to grill, depending on how big and meaty they are. Drizzle reserved sauce over wings, if desired.

Blue Cheese Dip:

4 oz. Roquefort or other good blue cheese
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar
1/2 t. kosher salt
pepper, to taste

Divide cheese in half.  No need to be perfect here - it all ends up in the same place. Put mayo, cream, vinegar, salt, pepper, and half the cheese in a mini-food processor.  Pulse until smooth.

Crumble remaining cheese into dip and mix well.


Hawaiian Pasta Salad

I am very picky about my pasta salad.  And my cole slaw, now that I'm thinking about it.  I don't like the typical from-a-box pasta salad that rears it's ugly head at many a summer cook-out.  It's not enough to boil some pasta to death, throw in some chopped peppers and olives, and drench it in bottled Italian dressing.  I prefer a macaroni salad that is flavorful and creamy with some thought put into it.  I realize I'm a pasta salad snob.

I'm kind of a food snob in general, I suppose.  And a grammar snob.  (So if you ever see any grammatical errors in these posts, please let me know.  I want my grammar to be bad-ass.)

Now that you know that I turn my nose up at boring old pasta salad, I'm sure you are wondering why I'm writing about one.  Well, I actually found this recipe very interesting.  It has some intriguing ingredients and quantities that appealed to me.  I just had to try it.  That was last year.  And I've been making it regularly since because it's my new favorite macaroni salad.

This recipe for Hawaiian Pasta Salad has a large amount of vinegar, which I love. I guess it's because I'm not so much made up of sugar and spice but piss and vinegar.  I also love the fact that you boil the hell out of the pasta, which seemed very wrong to me, but learned it is oh-so right in this application.  It's creamy and tangy and soft and crunchy all at once.

What is your favorite pasta salad to make for a cook-out?

Hawaiian Pasta Salad
Serves 8-10

2 c. whole milk (use whole or the dressing will be too thin)
2 c. mayonnaise (use regular or the dressing will be too thin)
1 T. brown sugar
1 lb. elbow macaroni
1/2 c. cider vinegar, plus more for serving, if you want
4 green onions
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
1 celery rib, chopped fine
salt and pepper

Whisk 1-1/2 cup milk, 1 cup mayo, brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons of pepper in a bowl.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add salt to the water and add pasta.  Boil it until it's light in color and very soft (no room for al dente here).  Drain the macaroni and return it to the empty pot.  Add the vinegar to the pasta and stir.  Toss pasta and vinegar until the vinegar is absorbed.  Transfer to a large bowl and let cool about 10 minutes.

Pour milk / mayo mixture over pasta and toss to coat well.  Cool completely.

Add green onions, carrots, remaining milk and remaining mayonnaise to the pasta and stir to coat completely.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Sprinkle with additional cider vinegar on each serving, if desired.

Adapted from Cook's Country recipe for Hawaiian Macaroni Salad


Baja Burgers

There's this dude named Noah that I've secretly fallen in love with.  He's one of those bad-boy hot guys that have a rough exterior but a teddy bear heart.  My husband has no idea that I have been dreaming of Noah but I don't think he'll mind.  See, Noah isn't real.  No, I'm not schizophrenic.  He's a character in Katie McGarry's soon-to-be-published book Pushing the Limits.

Not only is Katie one of my best friends, but she's an amazing author.  She graciously allowed me to be a beta reader for her (which means I get to read it before anyone else does.  Na na na na boo boo!)  I give her honest feedback on her writing in exchange for an early view of this amazing book.  Pushing the Limits  is about two teens, brought together by their court ordered therapist, working together to learn the secrets of their case files, but neither foresaw the shattering consequences of the learning the truth regarding their families or of falling in love. Pushing the Limits is due out in Spring 2012 and I can't bloody wait.

Back to Noah.  He is a total hottie who can make a mean burger.  And Katie and I are fairly certain he would love this burger.

Baja Burgers are loaded with Tex-Mex-y flavor.  By the way, I posted the guacamole recipe in a previous post if you'd like to see it by itself.  These burgers are juicy, creamy, hot, cool, spicy, mild, and crunchy all at once.  I'm aware that it sounds kind of strange.  Some may say "gross" or "ewwww."  Don't worry, my feelings are not hurt.  My friends had the same reaction, but thankfully they're adventurous and trusting and gave it a shot.  Now, I am uninvited if these Baja Burgers don't take center stage.

Baja Burgers
Serves 4, with guacamole leftover for chips
The guacamole recipe can be found here.

1-1/3 lb. 85% lean ground beef
chili powder
salt and pepper
4 avocados
2 limes
1/3 c. diced red onion
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 large jalapenos, stemmed, seeded, ribs removed and minced
1 t. cumin
1 t. salt
cilantro, chopped, to taste (optional)
salsa, homemade or jarred
sour cream
tortilla chips
4 hamburger buns
Form ground beef into 4 patties, making a slight indentation in the center of each patty to allow for the puff-up as they always do.  Season with salt and pepper.  Generously season with cumin and chili powder.  Set aside at room temperature.

Halve avocados and remove pit.  An easy way to do this is to hold the avocado in your palm, and carefully take a knife and chop/stab the seed with the edge of the knife. Scoop out the flesh from the skin with a spoon into a large bowl.  Squeeze limes over avocados adding the juice.  Using a potato masher, smash the avocados until the desired consistency.  Add onion, tomato, garlic, jalapeno, cumin, salt, and cilantro, if using,  and mix well. To store leftovers (good luck with that!), place a piece of plastic wrap directly on surface of guac and refrigerate. 

Grill burgers, flipping once without smashing them down, until desired doneness.  Meanwhile, grill buns until golden and toasty. 

Top burgers with guacamole, sour cream, salsa, and tortilla chips.  Get a few napkins handy because you're gonna need them.

To find out more about Katie McGarry and her upcoming books being published, check out these links.



Each year, the men in my family all get together and go on a vacation together, called the Mancation.  I'm not sure exactly what they do, and I'm not sure I want to.  I imagine there's a lot of cigar-smoking, beer drinking, and chest-thumping peppered with bathroom humor and colorful language.  My husband loves these annual trips because it's like a big frat party with the coolest men on the planet.

The group was comprised of 3 generations of menfolk - from my brother, the youngest, to my grandpa, the oldest.  Our son is 14 and will be invited into their secret penis club in 4 years.  My grandpa, the most amazing, intelligent, wise man I've ever met, loved these mancations and looked forward them so much.  He loved laughing at the perpetual fun-poking and competitive golfing amongst his sons and their offspring.  Paw-paw passed away in August 2009 at age 89.  He is so incredibly missed by us all and the mancations will never be the same.

I must say that little piece of my life I've just shared has little to do with guacamole, except this: for the last mancation before my grandpa died, I made a huge bucket of guac for the guys and they ate it all the first night. 

Guacamole is one of those super-easy dips that we eat all summer long.  Not only is it much cheaper to make it yourself, it's easy to tweak and make it milder or spicier to your personal tastes.  And for those of you with the special gene that makes cilantro taste like soap, you can omit it.

Makes 2-3 cups (guessing here...)

4 avocados
2 limes
1/3 c. diced red onion
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 large jalapenos, stemmed, seeded, ribs removed and minced
1 t. cumin
1 t. salt
cilantro, chopped, to taste (optional)

Halve avocados and remove pit.  An easy way to do this is to hold the avocado in your palm, and carefully take a knife and chop/stab the seed with the edge of the knife.

Scoop out the flesh from the skin with a spoon into a large bowl.  Squeeze limes over avocados adding the juice.  Using a potato masher, smash the avocados until the desired consistency.  Add remaining ingredients and mix well.  Serve with tortilla chips.  To store any leftovers, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of guacamole and refrigerate.


Honey Ice Cream

My husband has apiphobia.  Well, he's not exactly been diagnosed, but since I did take 3 years of psych classes in college, I'm obviously qualified.  Apiphobia is the fear of bees.  It's actually quite humorous to watch, and even after all these years together, I never tire of his amusing reaction to a little black and yellow buzzing insect.  

Let me begin by painting a picture of The Hubs.  He's 6'3", has almost black hair, a beard, and two very sexy tattoos.  He does very manly things like building our deck and installing a water-powered back-up sump pump.  He also does very gentle things like braid our daughters' hair and pull out splinters.  Did I mention that he's also a former Marine and a damn good musician? 

Now on to his apiphobia.  I'm going to try and write this without any typos or misspellings as the tears of laughter flood my eyes and run down my face.

When confronted with a bee or wasp, he jumps up like his ass is on fire.  He runs around in a zig-zag pattern while swatting at the now-long-gone insect all the while yelling, "Ahhhhhhhh!", with a voice 6 octaves higher than his normally very deep voice.  He will plow through women, children, and animals without hesitation to get as far away from this evil bug.  He'll toss over chairs, hurdle mini-vans, and dive through thorn bushes in order to make a hasty escape from these bees, which he's sure only have eyes for him.  To his credit, he is allergic to bees and wasps, so I'm guessing there was a traumatic bee sting somewhere in his childhood that caused him to fear them with such passion.

It's actually bloody hilarious to watch him react so quickly and loudly to a tiny little bee buzzing around, minding his own business, just looking for a sweet flower. 

When searching for a Honey Ice Cream recipe, I came across a few but none fitting with what I was looking for.  I found some with as little as 3 tablespoons of honey.  I didn't bother trying them out, but I'm guessing there's not a lot of honey flavor there.  There were a few promising ones with plenty of honey but they had no egg yolks and I really wanted a custard-y ice cream.  Thus I made my own recipe.

The flavor of Honey Ice Cream is buttery (my son actually asked me how much butter I put in the recipe.  None), and caramel-y with deep honey flavors.  You have to really like honey to dig this ice cream.  There is no refined sugar at all - the honey sweetens this rich ice cream plenty.

And can you imagine how awesome this would be with a sore throat?  The honey acts as a natural antimicrobial killing bacteria and viruses and the cool ice cream would soothe the throat.  Hmmmm.... I think I'm onto something here!

Honey Ice Cream

4 egg yolks
12 oz. honey (good quality, preferably local)
1 c. whole milk
2 c. heavy cream
1 t. vanilla
pinch salt

Whisk yolks until light and fluffy.  Add honey and whisk until combined.

In a saucepan, barely boil the milk and salt.  Temper it with the eggs by slowly adding a bit of the hot milk to the eggs while whisking.  Whisk the milk and egg mixture together until combined.  Return to the saucepan and turn heat to medium-low.  Cook, whisking, until the temperature reaches 180* and coats the back of a spoon.  Strain mixture into bowl.  Add cream and vanilla, stirring to combine.  Chill in refrigerator until cold.

Follow directions on your ice cream maker to finish the ice cream.  I have a Kitchenaid attachment and it took 25-30 minutes to get to soft serve consistency.  After an overnight stay in the freezer, the ice cream is still of a soft serve consistency.


Grilled Pizza - Margherita Style

Summer is here in full force.  I don't know about you but it's roasty-toasty where I live.  And we all know what happens in summer - we start grilling.  However, I get tired of the hunk-o-meat thrown on the grill.  Don't get me wrong - I'm the first in line for some barbequed ribs or chicken.  But sometimes I want something non-meaty but still on the grill.  We grill pizza quite frequently in my household, especially in the summer.  The glorious thing about it is you can alter the toppings any way you like.  For the cavemen, load that pie up with bacon, prosciutto, pepperoni, sausage, or ground beef.  For me, my favorite is Grilled Pizza - Margherita Style. 

We don't have a wood-fired pizza oven in our backyard, and probably never will.  The next best thing is the grill.  I must admit, with a bit of shame, that we own a gas grill.  (Now's when the grilling geeks out there groan...).  I'm too damn lazy to spend 45 minutes building a chimney starter and waiting for the coals to ash over.  I like turning a few knobs, waiting 15 minutes for the monster to heat up, and then grilling some animal flesh or fruits of the earth in rapid time.

 Back to the pizza.  It's much easier than you might think.  If you want to go totally Sandra Lee, you can buy jarred pizza sauce instead of making your own, although this recipe is easy-peasy lemon squeezy and it tastes a helluva lot better. 

 The key is to have your grill at the right temperature and to prevent the dough from sticking to whatever you put it on for transport to the grill.  I roll the pizza dough out and place on lightly floured parchment paper atop an overturned baking sheet.  Just don't let it get warm - the moisture in the dough will seep out into the paper and it will stick. 

Grilled Pizza - Margherita Style
Serves 2-4

1 lb. pizza dough - homemade, store-bought, or purchased from pizzeria
2 T. olive oil
1 small red onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
28 oz. crushed tomatoes
1 T. fresh basil, rolled and sliced
1 t. fresh rosemary, minced
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. sugar
salt and pepper
olive oil, for brushing
1 ball fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
handful fresh basil

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over med-high heat.  Add onions and cook until translucent.  Add garlic and cook 30 seconds more or until fragrant.  Add the undrained tomatoes and herbs.  Add sugar and salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes or until slightly thickened.

Meanwhile, heat grill to high.  Allow to heat for 15 minutes then scrape grill grates clean.

Divide dough ball in half.  On a lightly floured surface, roll each portion into a circle as thin as you can without tearing.  Don't worry if it ends up in the shape of an amoeba - it will add to the rustic charm.  Place a piece of parchment paper on an overturned baking sheet.  Sprinkle and rub lightly with flour.  Carefully move dough to baking sheet. 

Once grill is ready, bring all ingredients and toppings outside to the grill with you, because now it's going to go quickly.  With the grill on high heat, brush one side of dough generously with olive oil.  Toss the dough on grill, oiled side down, and peel off paper.  Repeat with other dough half.  Close lid and turn heat down to medium-high.  After about 5 minutes, start checking the underside of the pizza for a golden brown crust.  When ready, oil the top side and flip dough.

Immediately spoon on sauce and top with sliced fresh mozzarella.  Close the lid and turn down the heat to low.  Once the cheese is melted and the bottom is browned, remove from the grill.  Tear the remaining fresh basil and sprinkle on pizza.


Garden - Worm Castings

This photo is not of soil or compost.  What you're looking at is worm poop.  Yes, people actually make a living harvesting and selling worm crap.  I've never used it before but I was so curious I just had to try it out.  I bought a bag from my local organic supply center.  I paid around $13 for my sack of crap.

Worm castings, or vermicast, are high in nutrients for the soil.  In fact, this healthy poop contains up to eleven times the amounts of potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen found in regular old soil.  It helps aerate the soil as well.  Rumor has it, the plants will benefit greatly from the addition of worm castings, and I am willing to try.

I scooped out one cup of the worm castings and spread it around the base of each plant, working it in the top inch or so.  Next year, I will be sure to add it at the time of planting and work it into the soil as deep as three or four inches.

Pepper plant

I'm also planning on using my leftover vermicast to make worm crap tea.  Doesn't that just sound delicious?  I'll take some pantyhose (which I'll need to purchase since I haven't had those horrible things on my legs since the early 90's) and pour some worm castings into it, tie it off, making a tea bag essentially.  I will leave it in water overnight or for a couple of days and then spray the lovely turd tea over my darling plants.  They will thank me for it, no doubt.  I mean, who wouldn't want a shower of homemade worm diarrhea?

Tomato plant

P.S.  The worm castings don't smell one bit.


Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese Crostini

I'm going to start by saying how much I love our neighbors.  Somehow we built a house on a cul-de-sac surrounded by the most amazing people.  We absolutely love to get together to eat and drink and be merry.  There are a few honorary members of our "frat", whom are included in get-togethers.  We have been known to get rowdy from time to time and one of our favorite things is to ask moral and ethical questions and get into friendly debates on a subject. 

We got together for Memorial Day and this is an appetizer I came up with.  It got rave reviews so I'm going to share the recipe for this easy Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese Crostini with you, my friends.  This recipe is easily doubled for a large crowd.

Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese Crostini
Serves 8-10

2 lb. (about 2-1/2 pints) cherry tomatoes
handful thyme sprigs
3 T. olive oil
salt and pepper
8 oz. goat cheese
8 oz. ricotta
1-1/2 T. heavy cream or milk
1 baguette
olive oil
balsamic vinegar

Pre-heat oven to 300*.  On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the tomatoes and thyme sprigs with 3 tablespoons olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.

Roast the tomatoes in oven for 1 hour, or until skins burst.  Remove and allow to cool.  Tomatoes can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

In a medium bowl, mix together the goat cheese, ricotta, and heavy cream until well combined.  Add additional cream if necessary to get a smooth, spreadable consistency.

Pre-heat broiler.  Slice baguette crosswise into 1/4" pieces.  Place on rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.  Broil until bread is toasted and golden brown.

Spread cheese mixture on crostini and top with roasted tomatoes, being careful to exclude thyme sprigs.  Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.