Category Archives: Books

Maximizing the Grill

It is hot out there. This week our highs are in the mid to upper 90s, with no clouds or rain in sight for relief. When we saw what the weather was going to be like this week, we made some plans to try to keep cool with our dinners this week. Who wants to slave over a hot stove or oven after being in an out of a car whose internal temperature is probably way over 100 degrees? Not me.

Here’s what we did.

Firstly, I asked the husband if he was willing to grill in Sunday evening. This was kind of a rhetorical question because, unless it is raining, or we have other plans, he almost always grills every Sunday during the spring, summer, and fall (I am working on extending this into the winter). Still, I asked nicely because one should never make assumptions and I don’t want him to feel he is taken for granted. He said yes.

Then, I pulled out Vietnamese Home Cooking, turned to the chapter on grilling, and picked three recipes. Yes. I said three. I figured, as long as those coals were hot, we were going to grill as much food as possible so that we could have enough for multiple meals.

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The first recipe I picked was Grilled Pork Chops with Sweet Lemongrass Marinade. This was super easy. The hardest part was finding the lemongrass. None of the regular grocery stores had it, so we ended up making a trek down to the asian store 30 minutes away. It was worth it. The meat was juicy and flavorful.

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Next, we had Grilled Five-Spice Chicken. This one was a tad on the salty side. Next time, I will cut back on the fish sauce. One half cup for 1.5 pounds of chicken was a bit much. Or maybe I should just have put more chicken in the bag. Anyway, it was still tasty, especially when mixed with some rice to temper the saltiness.

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While at the asian store, the husband saw some nice looking fish and decided that he wanted to try grilling fish, which he has never done before. If you have never been to an asian store, I urge you to go. They really have the best selection and prices when it comes to fish and seafood. He chose to get two mackerel and two yellowfin tunas. We got all four of those fish for about $12. Really, you can’t beat that anywhere.

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The fish turned out to be easy to grill and beautiful, too. We will most certainly be doing grilled fish again. We did overcook them just a tad. It was our first time doing fish on the grill and we had a fear of undercooking and making everyone sick. Next time, we will be less anxious and take them off a couple minutes sooner.

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So, here is a look at out Sunday night dinner table. We have 4 thick pork chops, 1.5 pounds chicken, 4 fish, grilled corn on the cob, and rice. Yeah, I know, we were a little thin on veg, but we were a bit preoccupied by all the proteins. We made up for it the next day.

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The great thing about grilled meats is that they taste great cold, especially in a salad kind of thing. On Monday, with the leftovers, we had Vietnamese Vermicelli (Bun) Bowls.

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This is basically a bowl of cold rice noodles with a variety of grilled meats, some chopped herbs and lettuce, lightly picked veg, and a nice sauce made from fish sauce and lime juice. It was beautiful and refreshing, and, best of all, required minimal cooking.

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The next day, we still had some leftover meats, so I tried my hand at making summer rolls.

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These have almost the same ingredients as Bun bowls, but they are wrapped in rice paper. They were much easier to make than I anticipated and made me wonder why I hadn’t tried them before. Instead of the traditional shrimp, I used some leftover fish, and, while good, we all did miss the shrimp. Well, except for the older son who does not like shrimp.

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I did not make the peanut sauce recipe in the book since I was missing an ingredient or two, but made a recipe from The Best International Recipe published by the Cook’s Illustrated people.

So far, our Sunday grill-a-thon has given us three dinners and two lunches for four people. We still have some left which we will probably eat simply with some rice and a stir fried veggie. I highly recommend this method of summer meal making. It maximizes your grilling time and minimizes the time you spend slaving over a hot stove during the week. Vietnamese food is wonderful summer food with lots of fresh textures and flavors, but you could also do this with Mexican or American. Any grilled meats would be good in sandwiches, tacos, burritos, salads, pastas, etc. There are endless possibilities.

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Salty Cake

What do you get when you take the sugar out of cake and add bacon, cheese, green onions, and a little cayenne?

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You get one of the yummiest things you’ll ever eat.

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This bread is perfect as a snack or appetizer, and would also be good served with soup or salad.

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I made this on the spur of the moment on Saturday to take to the boys’ piano recital party and it was a big hit.

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The recipe can be found in David Lebovitz’ book, The Sweet Life in Paris. The only change I made to the recipe was to change out the blue cheese for goat cheese, but I may make the blue cheese version soon, since I have some lounging around the fridge. It would make a great snack for the boys between meals and a nice alternative to the crackers and chips they have been having lately.

Aside from the cooking of bacon, it is a painless recipe. For this reason, it is a great candidate for using up any leftover bacon you may have laying around. In fact, when you cook bacon, you might want to consider cooking some extra for this cake. It would be worth it.

I don’t usually post recipes in cookbooks because of copyright issues. I really still believe in the printed book business, and I don’t want to take away from the income of really good cookbook authors. However, if you search for the recipe name along with David Lebovitz’ name, you’ll be able to find it if you want it. If you are interested at all in cooking, baking, and Paris life, though, consider buying the book. It is a good read and an interesting look into life as an American living in Paris. Plus, it has a lot of really good recipes. I am looking forward to trying the Chocolate Yogurt Snack Cakes, the Dulche de Leche Brownies, and the Pork Roast with Brown Sugar and Bourbon glaze, just to name a few.

Totally Random

The end of the school year is coming nearer, and things are quite busy here with last picnics and recitals and such. It’s hard for me to keep track of where I am going next, much less string together enough coherent thoughts to make a blog post. So, here, I present some random things that have been on my mind to share, but I have not enough brain function to expand upon now.

1. I finished my pink flowery socks over the weekend and it was actually cool enough that I could wear them comfortably. Of course, I cannot say that about this coming weekend, which is supposed to be over 20 degrees warmer than last weekend. I love them. They are really comfy. More details are on my Rav page.

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2. I gave the husband his father’s day gift a month early, and boy, am I glad!

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This add-on rotisserie thingy for our grill made our Memorial Day celebration very, very tasty and easy, too.

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I’m already dreaming about legs of lamb and ribs and whatever else can be skewered and roasted. This is looking like it will be a yummy summer.

3. I am back to reading some classics and have just finished up Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. Meh. I had mixed feelings while reading this. It was good writing and the scenes of idyllic English farm life were restful and lovely, but some of the main characters were beyond annoying. Also, I think Hardy comes across as really sexist, which, I suppose is not too surprising given the time in which it was written, but it bordered on the offensive to me. So, this book will not go on my list of must reads, but I think a lot of interesting and controversial papers could be written about it, haha! There I go exposing my English major tendencies.

4. While I am on the subject of classic stories, I’m also in the middle of watching the newish Masterpiece version of Wuthering Heights. It is interesting to me how I am responding to these stories in a different way than when I first encountered them years ago. Catherine and Heathcliff seemed beyond romantic to me when I was young. Now, they just drive me crazy. Can’t they all just relax and get along? Love just doesn’t act that way, but I guess true love doesn’t really make an entertaining story. Why am I torturing myself with this? I don’t really know. It’s just something to watch while I’m knitting.

5. Speaking of knitting, I am almost done with my silky sweater and I am on the verge of casting on many projects this weekend. In fact, I spent a little while last night winding lots of yarn. More on these to come later. I’ve got another picnic to go to in a little while. This will be the 5th picnic in 8 days and, I think, the last. Hallelujah!

A Little Fluff

When bad days cluster together, I find myself in search of fluff during the free minutes I have. Fluff can take lots of different forms. Cake is one type of fluff. Rhubarb Buckle with Ginger Crumb has really stolen my heart this week.

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It comes from Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson. Richardson has also written the other book pictured here, Vintage Cakes. I have been enjoying these two little books immensely. The jam cake from Vintage Cakes was really well received by my ladies craft group (sorry, no picture. It’s been busy.) and the blueberry cake I made awhile back is also from this book. Now that fruit is starting to come back in season, I will probably be trying out more recipes from Rustic Fruit Desserts, and if they are all as yummy as the rhubarb cake, I will be very happy.

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I’ve also been doing a little bit of easy knitting that goes by quickly. These mitts should be done today. It will be nice to cross something off of my list and I’ll be just in time, too, since I am expecting a squishy yarn package or two in the next couple of days.

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Even my reading gets lighter. I had been working on Les Miserables and some other various classics and even a history book, but this week, all my reading time was devoted to a fluffy book called Needles and Pearls. It’s one of those girly books loosely based around someone who owns a knitting shop. While not particularly great writing or even a great story, it was easy on the brain and calming in the sense that it did not raise any heightened emotions. Just what I needed this week. Sometimes, real life is stressful enough and I don’t need more stress in my reading or crafting or baking.

What about you? How do you change your routines when life get stressful?

Instead

It’s amazing how time flies by! Life is busy, as I am sure you know very well, and sometimes we just do not have time for all the things we would like to do. I am often complaining to the husband about how unproductive I feel some days because I tend to tie my sense of productivity to tangible things: the number of cookies I’ve baked, writing a blog post, loads of laundry done, whether or not a “real” dinner is made, or the number of inches of knitting or quilt blocks completed. Intangible things, since they are difficult to quantify, just do not create in me the same sense of accomplishment.

Last week, I tried something new, sort of. I tried to just relax and do whatever came my way instead of trying to accomplish a certain list of things in a day, like I usually do. Here is a very non-comprehensive list of stuff that did and did not get done.

1. I finally finished The Count of Monte Cristo. I have been working on this book since last summer. It’s not a boring read, but it does take a higher level of attention than many books, so it took quite a bit longer than usual to finish it. Anyway, it was highly entertaining and one of those rare books in which the resolution is perfect and complete, with no loose ends and a satisfying amount of character development. Now, I am looking forward to watching the movie, because the action-packed story is perfect for a movie.

2. Not much cooking is going on. In the past week, I have only made dinner once. We’ve gone out a couple of times, but we also had a couple of leftover nights. This is very rare for me, but it’s nice to have a break once in awhile. Of course, I was not totally absent in the kitchen. I did manage to make some steamed buns on Sunday, Chinese New Year.

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3. Hearts are everywhere. I’ve been helping the boys with their valentines. Well, mostly, I just showed them how to do them and they took off from there. They each made 60 for a party that we went to yesterday. For the party, we made heart cookies. I make cut out heart cookies every year during valentine’s day week. They make me smile. This year, I used a shortbread recipe from Sarabeth’s Bakery. It had a little lemon zest in it, which gave it a nice, bright flavor. I subbed in powdered sugar for the superfine, which I think gives shortbread a more tender texture. I may play with this recipe a bit more. If I do, I’ll get back to you with a recipe.

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4. Walking, walking, walking. A few weeks ago, I got a fitbit and it has been helping me to see how inactive I am, so I have been trying to go for more walks. It takes me about and hour and a half to do 10,000 steps. Most days, I don’t have time for that, but it’s useful to know. Also, it has been useful to track my eating habits (which are good, though I could use some more veggies in my life), and I have surprisingly discovered that I am not such a bad sleeper. I wake up an average of 12-15 times a night, but my sleep efficiency is still above 90%, whatever that means.

5. No sewing and not much knitting. I’ve fallen behind on my mystery shawl, but am almost done with a pair of plain socks. It turns out that lace is too hard to knit during movies and board games and lectures. I have made some progress on a sleeve, which I will show off another day.

6. Scrapbooking. I did spend about 10 hours last weekend at a scrapbooking event where I managed to finish a previously half done project, go through last quarter’s pictures, and work on a digital book. I know that digital scrapbooking is the future, but somehow it feels more like work and less like a hobby to be sitting at a computer doing page layouts for hours. Oh, wait. That used to be part of my job before I had kids. No wonder digital scrapbooking feels like work.

Well, that’s about it, really. I am really hoping to get more accomplished this week because, even though it was nice to have a break from the to do list, I think I have found that I like having goals and deadlines. They provide me with a little extra motivation and help me to organize and maximize my time. Otherwise, I find that my head gets stuck in a book and I don’t get up and go. The trick for me is to not let the list be my tyrant and to make sure my priorities are in the right place so that I am not sacrificing a precious hour playing games with my kids to a self imposed baking/cooking/crafting deadline. Balance. Life is all about balance, right?