Category Archives: sides


Despite a language barrier, Danielle and I work well as a team using hand signals

We had an hour, but it is 20 minutes now until judging and the chicken is raw. And then there is the peanut butter issue.

In our basket at the Char-Broil version of Chopped are the mystery ingredients: a whole chicken, a fennel bulb, a stick of butter, bacon, a wedge of blue cheese, a pineapple and a horrifying jar of chunky peanut butter. We have to use all of them in our dish. The Char-Broil people, who have kindly invited the All-Star Bloggers to a resort outside Atlanta, have thoughtfully provided us with a nifty “kitchen” consisting of two disposable cutting boards, a half sheet pan, a moderately sharp knife, and four miniscule bowls.

Fear the Diva

But I have the ace card in my corner. My teammate is Danielle Dimovski, the reigning world pork champion better known as Diva Q. I am totally set here. This is going to be a walk in the park. “I know exactly what we’re going to do,” says Danielle as she hacks away at the pineapple. “We’re going to make beer-can chicken but we’re going to use the pineapple as the beer can. We can totally do this in an hour.” I have a slightly difficult time understanding her. Danielle is from Canada and she uses words like “aboat” (about) and “hoose” (house). Then again I use words like “haid” (head) and “bidness” (business). We have a slight language barrier, but we’ll work through that.

There are screaming hot Char-Broil TRU-Infrared grills set up around the Lake Pavilion at Serenbe, an insanely gorgeous planned community. Danielle slams that chicken onto the pineapple spike, rubs on some spices and citrus juice (the bloggers have a common “pantry” of additional ingredients we can use),  slaps the whole thing authoritatively on the grill and slams the lid shut.

If you’ve ever watched Chopped, the Food Network Show where four chefs are given mystery baskets of insanely inappropriate ingredients, you will understand that Danielle and I had to take a few minutes to ponder the butter, blue cheese, bacon, fennel and peanut butter.

Bacon? Obviously, no problem. We cook it on a grill pan. Fennel? Shave it and briefly kiss it with some grill marks. Alrighty then. We’re left with the butter, blue cheese and peanut butter. Yummy, yum, yum.

I am slightly reticent to offer suggestions to the world pork champion, but I wonder if we can’t use the peanut butter with some barbecue sauce to make a dipping sauce for the chicken. Why the hell not? We throw the peanut butter, barbecue sauce, a bit of lemon juice and a bit of Worcestershire into one of our pygmy bowls.  We throw in some bacon grease and butter. It looks like baked beans. But it tastes good.

It is now 20 minutes before turn in. Danielle lifts the lid of the grill. The chicken is…raw. Plan B. Plan B! This woman is a rock star. She takes the knife and dissects that chicken right on the grill! Two chicken breasts off the bird and onto the grill. I retreat to make a vinaigrette for the fennel.

Grilled chicken with fennel slaw and our almost-award-winning pineapple and bacon bites

I am going to cut to the chase.We made a grilled chicken breast over grilled fennel slaw in a citrus vinaigrette topped with blue cheese and bacon crumbles. But the single thing that makes our dish is this: We took some of the pineapple, cut into spears, and grilled it. Then we topped it with our peanut butter barbecue sauce concoction and then we put a strip of bacon on top. Sweet and salty on top of sweet and salty. They were over the top. The chicken and the fennel, not so much. Danielle and I knew this. Even though we don’t speak the same language we are realists.

We got honorable mention, based solely on our pineapple bacon bites. The winner was a New York

Christo modest in victory

City chef, Christo Gonzales, who made a chicken breast stuffed with fennel, bacon and blue cheese with a peanut butter and citrus jus. What a show off. Oh, I’m sorry. That’s not ladylike. But we’re not bitter. We applauded Christo, took a bite of his chicken and conceded we were outdone.

I will say this. After the competition, we had quite a few pineapple bacon bites left. And one by one, our fellow bloggers slowly sauntered over to our station and ate them all. I’m just sayin’.


Filed under cheese, chicken, pork, salads, sides, Uncategorized, veggies

Grilled blackened catfish with melon salsa and creamy grits

Hey, ya’ll. The weather’s finally warming up and it’s time to get outside to do some cooking. I have a great recipe (she said modestly) for blackened catfish using my trusty black-iron skillet on the grill. It’s posted on the Char-Broil site and if you would be so kind as to hop over there and take a look I’d be in your debt. Just click the link. Go ahead. Click it. Thank you.


Filed under seafood, sides

Grilled meatloaf with garbage can mashed potatoes

Oh, you want this. You so want this. Smoky meatloaf and mashed potatoes studded with all the good stuff. You want it so badly, you need to hop on over to the Char-Broil site and take a look-see. I promise you will not be disappointed.

For those of you new to this blog, I am also a Char-Broil All Star Blogger and the good folks at Char-Broil prefer that my blogs for them are exclusive to their site. So get on over there. And leave a comment! Makes me look good to the guys or gals in the front office. Hey, I want a front office. What is that exactly, anyway?

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Filed under beef, pork, sides

A college student cooks…well

Noah checks out

Teachable moments. When a child is five, it seems there are a thousand of them. By the time they’re twelve, the stack starts to dwindle. And, at almost 20, I am now down to five or six. Or so it seems.

Noah wants an apartment next year and, with that, will come cooking his own meals. He will have a budget of $100 a week (what, in a year, his meal plan would cost) and I am superior in my assumption that he has no idea how to make that money stretch for a week. So we test the theory. We go to the grocery store with a calculator.

We hit the perimeter of the store first. That’s where you want to shop. The produce, meat and dairy sections. Only go to the dark side for staples like pasta, oil and spices. Hamburger Helper? NO! Chips Ahoy? DANGER! Velveeta? Okay, you’ve got me there. I love me some Velveeta.

So, to make a long story short, he did great. Dammit. He bought (I bought) a package of chicken breasts, thin-cut pork chops and two pounds of bulk sausage. Low rent ham for sandwiches. Lower rent bread. Frozen vegetables, rice, pasta, apples, coffee, canned soup and store brand cheese. He bypassed the relatively expensive convenience foods. He was unsuitably smug in his victory and totally discounted the fact that I had guided him away from the frozen pizza.

Having a basket full of groceries and knowing what to do with them are two different things, however.

Pork chops, mashed potatoes and green beans

Hah! I’ll get him here. “So, son?” I say coyly. “Why don’t you cook us supper with your new groceries? Just whip something up. Anything, really.”

And I leave. I go down to the garage to smoke and play World of Warcraft, confident in the fact that when I ascend again there will be mass chaos, a smoke-filled kitchen and burnt shards of something inedible on the plate.

“Mom?” he says. “Supper’s ready.”

I ascend. I gasp. How did friggin’ Emeril Lagasse find my kitchen? Noah has made coffee rub/breadcrumb coated pork chops, cooked perfectly until just rosy in the middle. He has made buttery mashed potatoes with garlic. He has made hericot verts with garlic. Alright, too much garlic but I am not going to quibble. It was all delicious.

So, tonight we go again. Chicken breasts, chopped green and yellow pepper, red onion, mushrooms.

Chicken, peppers, mushrooms and pasta. Noah style.

He chops the chicken and seasons it with Montreal Chicken Seasoning. Sautes in oil, removes the chicken and then adds the vegetables.  When they’re nice and brown he adds a bit of Madeira (not something he’ll have on campus – I can’t see you)  and then adds a can of cream of mushroom soup. This is going to suck, I think. He thins the soup with milk, adds back the chicken, and then puts the entire mixture over pasta.

Dang it! It’s good. If I hadn’t watched him add the soup, I would never have known. I had seconds. And I wasn’t being polite.

I am proud of my boy. I would like to think that my miniscule attempt at one of the last few teachable moments had the seeds of germination in the hours he’s spent watching me cook over the last 19 years. But as I told him tonight there is no way to teach someone to cook. You either have the intuition or you don’t. You’re a recipe follower or you’re a creator. You can pick up tips and tricks, but you have to just have the knowledge of what goes with what and how much in your gut.

And he has it. No brag, just fact.


Filed under chicken, pork, sides, Uncategorized

Mushrooms in red wine

I like to cook with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.

As you can see, nothing but the finest will do for me. A friend of Noah’s, who is from France and whose family is in the wine business, was holding forth with my son about the virtues of various vintages. “My mom loves wine!” he said cheerfully. What kind, the friend asked. “The kind in the box.”

I used to like the kind in the bottle, but certain things have to go during  a recession. And it was pointed out by my wine purveyor that wine in a box stays fresher longer. That, of course, is not an issue with me. I don’t get within six months of the expiration date for wine. Does wine ever expire? Not at my house.

And some of it actually finds its way into the food. My spaghetti sauce is about 70 proof. Equal amounts of crushed tomatoes and red wine. It also appears in pan sauces. Saute some seasoned chicken breasts, add some white wine and scrape up all the good bits on the bottom of the pan. Let the wine reduce by half and swirl in a bit of butter.

Noah has loved mushrooms in red wine since he was a little boy. Oh, I just realized I have been feeding my son alcohol since he was 10. Too late now. They say most of the alcohol burns off.

So the trick to sauteing mushrooms, and I’m sorry to repeat myself but some of you may not have had your listening ears on, is that you have to crank up the heat and cook them through the stage where they leach out all the water. If you stop while all that liquid is in the pan what you have are steamed mushrooms. You want a nice mahogany color on them, whether you’re adding red wine or not.

And since I’ve already admitted that I drink box wine, I’ll also admit that while I have several very nice sets of wine glasses, I often drink it in a Solo cup. There’s nothing like sitting in the garage (because we have banned ourselves from smoking in the house), playing World of Warcraft, and sipping wine from a Solo cup. That’s living, my friends.

Mushrooms in red wine

2 tablespoons butter

8 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/3 cup red wine

Melt the butter in saute pan over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and season with salt, pepper and the thyme. Saute them until all the liquid has evaporated and they are a nice golden brown. Add the wine and continue cooking until all the wine has been absorbed into the mushrooms.




Filed under sides, veggies

Mini pork sandwiches and black-eyed pea salsa

If you’re from the South, you know the drill. You now officially have six days to plan your good luck New Year’s Day meal. It must include some kind of pig so you’ll live high off the hog, some greens for money and black-eyed peas for luck. This year I spread the luck quotient around by posting my pork sandwiches with spinach spread and black-eyed pea salsa to the rest of the country on the Char-Broil blog. So please, ya’ll, hop on over there and get your shopping list started!

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Filed under pork, sides

The third Saturday in October: Cherry tomatoes and despair

It is the third Saturday in October. There are beautiful sweet cherry tomatoes at the Farmer’s Market. That will be a bright spot in an otherwise trying day.

The third Saturday in October is the Tennessee-Alabama game. It is also right smack dab on or near to Mark’s birthday every year. It’s kind of like getting married the day before April 15, which we did. Our anniversary is always tinged with bitterness as we ready our tax return – and check – to our hapless, idiot government that will waste it on $47 screws. Speaking of screwed, we as a country are right now. I want to go to Wall Street and protest. But I can’t afford the plane ticket, this being a stinkin’ recession and all.

But I digress. So, most years, Tennessee does not do well against Alabama. Most years, I watch the game in the bedroom so I do not have to hear Mark’s constant screaming at the TV. Most years, we start drinking before halftime so that by the end of the game we have a hard time remembering who was even playing. It gets that bad. Happy birthday, honey! He does not tell me to shut up, but he is thinking it.

This year, the game was played on the eve of Mark’s birthday. We got clobbered. Taken to the cleaners. Whooped upside the head. Mark was inconsolable and headed to the deck for solitude so he could properly wallow in his depression. I tip-toe out there. He is pretending to read. I imagine the title of the book: “Hurts so bad: What it means to be a Tennessee fan.” Happy birthday, honey! Happy birthday? Oh, never mind.

So, there is nothing in the world to cure a bad case of depression like Eggs Benedict, which I make him this morning now that he has gotten his appetite back. If you are afraid of making hollandaise and resort to that little packet in the grocery store, please reconsider. It takes five minutes and it never fails. Here’s the recipe.

And the cherry tomatoes, tossed with some fresh basil, salt, pepper and olive oil are a perfect side dish. Hollandaise sauce? Bad, bad, bad but oh so good! Tomatoes are redemption every second bite. I am loading up on restorative food to erase the horror of last night. Supper will be his favorite dish, mustard chicken. And then German chocolate cake for dessert, not just like his mother used to make because I got it at my beloved Publix. But it’s the thought that counts.


Filed under breakfast, eggs, salads, sides, Uncategorized, veggies