Buffalo Grilled Chicken Cutlets, Grilled Indoors

A friend gave me a prize: a bottle of his secret Buffalo wing sauce. I do love the taste of chicken cooked with a delectable glaze of Buffalo wing sauce. IMG_6222I just don’t like having to work so much to get the meat off the wing. Same goes with eating crawfish. It’s a lot of messy work. Out came the secret sauce bottle and chicken breast cutlets. Call me prissy, but it was rather simple to grill the cutlets on the raclette grill. Once a side was browned with grill marks, I flipped the meat and brushed on a layer of Buffalo sauce. Once the other side was browned, I repeated with a flip and baste. At the same time, on the flat top side of the raclette grill, I cooked up zucchini slices, asparagus and sliced red cabbage.IMG_6217 I sprinkled some seasoning on the veggies as they cooked. Now, Buffalo chicken cries out for blue cheese or ranch dressing. We prefer a blue cheese Greek yogurt dressing. To engage the dressing, I toasted some whole wheat bolillos. To serve, spread the dressing on the toasted bread. I placed a chicken cutlet atop a bolillo half for an open-faced sandwich and ate it with a knife and fork. IMG_2215The veggies were an outstanding complement. The best thing was the simplicity: no brining wings, no plastic bags, no baking or outdoor grilling. It just all came together on the electric raclette grill, indoors. The non-stick aluminum grill top just washed off in the sink with warm water, a little soap and a brush. That was it. Enjoy!

Grill away the Chill – Yes, Grill in Wintertime

Preparing to stay in on a cold winter night, you may opt to make a vat of soup and bake bread. Or, you could grill veggies. That’s right, I said grill. In wintertime. A raclette grill fits that bill perfectly.

Veggies on a raclette grill... indoors
Veggies on a raclette grill… indoors

It’s electric and sits on your table or countertop while it works its magic on vegetables, meats or fish. There is no smoke, no fire, no standing outside in inclement weather. You and yours can sit around the grill enjoying toasty food, together, indoors. I once saw my brother-in-law head out to a snowy deck during a New England blizzard to grill meat. Let’s just say that is commendable, but totally unnecessary.

The convenience with the raclette grill means I can place ingredients on the non-stick grill top (or granite top) and walk away. I’m a multi-tasker and may be doing laundry, working up a spreadsheet or playing with my dog while cooking. I have yet to experience burned food on the raclette. The closest I came to burning something was some liquefied cheese in a raclette pan (little cooking dishes for cheese or small pieces of food, such as shrimp).

Our first raclette grill experience combined veggies, cheese and sausage. I browned the sausages all the way around, then split them to cook in lengthwise halves. I’ve also cooked hamburgers, chicken fajitas, chicken cutlets, pork cutlets and fish on the raclette grill. The joy of this is akin to that of making a one-pot dish. There is only one think to clean and this cooking surface just wipes down in the sink.

If you must bake a casserole to combat the chill, consider the ease of using a cheese dip. I took leftover rice, added the cheese dip, a can of celery soup, a can of diced chiles and freshly diced tomatoes. After a half-hour at 375 degrees, we had a perfect cheesy rice casserole.IMG_6185IMG_6187

If you find yourself cooped up this winter, dreaming of a mixed grill meal with fresh veggies, oozy cheese and delicious meats, then why not adopt the raclette lifestyle?

Field to Table: Venison Chili, Camping and Fireside Chats

If you told me 10 years ago that I would celebrate my birthday by going deer hunting in Texas, I would have laughed at you. In January 2006, a career change that was in the offing was not yet on my radar as the position I would ultimately transfer to in Houston was not yet posted. By July of that year, I moved to Texas and began to explore a bunch of new things. IMG_6049In 2009, I met my boyfriend and he ultimately introduced me to hunting. I had only tasted venison once before in Washington, D.C., and thought it was terrible. In retrospect, that meat was probably not properly prepared. The first time my boyfriend served me venison, I sliced off the tiniest piece, about 0.5 cm square and delicately took that bite. Surprise: it was good. Venison is a very lean protein and versatile as well. If you are finicky about meat and where you source it, then hunting is the best way to know exactly how it was harvested, cleaned and processed. Some people process their own venison, but we take ours to a trusted processor. As our hunt approached, our freezer reserve of meat was getting low, which provided extra motivation. IMG_6072We were drawn in a state wildlife management hunt, which specified gender and number of deer allowed to be taken. Ultimately, we went home with three does. Even if we had not succeeded in the hunt, we would have deemed it a good outing. We got to sit in the peace and quiet of the woods for hours at a time over three days. IMG_6047We set up camp next to a lake and were thankful for our propane heater as the temperature was in the 40s overnight. We realized our old non-stick skillet was rusting out so it was time to recycle it as the local scrapyard. We sat by a campfire each night, chatting with another hunter, who turned out to have a really interesting job and shared our love for dogs. We exchanged recipe ideas with a hunt volunteer. We counted our blessings and stored all our memories of this trip in our grateful minds before returning to Houston. Knowing we had replenished the venison vault, I took out the last two pounds of ground venison from last February’s hunt in Laredo and browned the meat. It was time to make chili. IMG_6096Lately, I have experimented with my own spice mix before adding tomatoes, but this time I returned to the most reliable and quite delicious Carol Shelby’s chili mix. Lest I start an argument over whether to include beans, I’ll leave that to your personal preference. We enjoyed the chili and sat around our patio firepit to recreate the warmth and happiness we took in at the campsite. In the morning, I walked the Sage Leopard on the bayou so he could pretend he was hunting too.IMG_6167

Finding Ginger and the Mystery of the Missing Dogs

When my boyfriend closed on his house, the sellers warned him that stray animals tend to show up here. He thought they were joking. The parade of lost animals started with a pair of little white dogs. In the coming years, they were followed by a crazy, menacing mixed breed pair; mother and daughter Labradors; a carrier pigeon; and a miniature schnauzer. Last week, on Byron’s way to work, a little lost Yorkie ran under his pickup truck. This was near a busy road, so he got out and picked up the dog. Next thing I knew, I was driving the Yorkie to the vet.

Little lost Yorkie, as found in the street

She was only wearing a bow, and where she wasn’t balding, her fur was matted. I was really pumped when the microchip scanner alerted and then was equally dejected when the vet’s assistant related that the chip company said the last information they had on the dog was from 10 years ago in Miami. Things got wild from there. I received a call from Yajaira, the original owner in Miami. She was shocked that Ginger was in Texas. I was shocked that the dog had been missing for so long and no one else had brought her to a vet for a check. I immediately updated the quick post I had placed on a local lost-and-found pets Facebook page. Most people liked that the update announced the owner was located with a microchip. Of course, a busybody piped up that I should track down whoever had her in Texas and let that person sort out ownership with the Miami lady. I fumed. Really? The Miami lady had the dog’s original papers and had her animal chipped. Whoever had Ginger in the meantime had not been kind in terms of keeping up with medical care. Perhaps they were well-intentioned, or perhaps they dumped her. All I knew was no one appeared to be looking for her, either online or with neighborhood signs. Most importantly, her legitimate owner was flipping out and planning to bring her home to Miami. That was such a refreshing contrast with the original owner of the schnauzer that showed up in our driveway in 2014. Byron tracked down the person from an old rabies tag on that dog. The guy said he had not seen the dog in two months and ultimately did not want the dog back. He suggested Byron drop it off at the pound. We kept that dog in the family and Roscoe now happily lives with Byron’s parents. Here, with the little lost Yorkie, we had the original owner on the line, overjoyed to hear her dog was located, 10 years later. We also had a little logistical crunch in that Byron and I had immediate travel plans. We had been selected by lottery by Texas Parks and Wildlife for a management hunt, which is a means of controlling against deer overpopulation. We had already paid for our permits and had reservations to camp. I suggested that Ginger be kenneled with our dogs at the vet’s office and she could be examined as well. We’d be back in a couple of days. This ultimately worked out fine, especially as her Miami owner wanted her condition checked out, and the plan was to bring Ginger to the airport on Saturday. We were all so excited. Driving to the airport with Ginger on my lap, I got a sense something might be wrong. Then again, we were listening to David Bowie’s last album and the ominous tone of the music was giving me a bad vibe. Well, maybe I had a premonition because when we got to unnamed airline’s cargo office at the appointed time on the airbill, the door was locked. A man’s voice expressed indifference to our plight. We begged the terminal staff for assistance and they earnestly cared, but could not override the system to let a cargo dog fly in the passenger cabin without an accompanying passenger. Yajaira and I had been madly texting each other as she was on the phone with the airline. Ultimately, the reality dawned that Ginger wasn’t getting on a plane to Miami that night. We resolved to regroup and try Sunday morning with United Airlines. What a world of difference. When we got to the designated area at the United cargo office, there was a van with photos of doggies.

Byron & Ginger preflight
Getting ready for her flight from Houston to Miami

We walked in and were warmly greeted by an amazing, dedicated United PetSafe staff. The counter lady said at the outset that she would do everything to make sure Ginger made her flight. She was not kidding. We had the wrong kind of crate and Byron set out to a store to get the right one. He came back with the wrong size. The lady found a spare and gave it to Ginger (after first checking with the person who had left that crate behind). She took care of all the paperwork and made sure Ginger was safe and secure. It was time to say good-bye to Ginger. I could not celebrate yet because I wanted to wait until I knew she was back with Yajaira. I set up a flight status alert with the United app. Finally, we received a photo text with Ginger and Yajaira in Miami. That was the ultimate relief. We received multiple photos and videos of Ginger back at her Miami home. Yajaira said the dog just walked right back into the house. That doesn’t surprise me at all. Ginger is a very smart dog and knows where she is truly loved.


Back where she belongs... Ginger in Miami
Back where she belongs… Ginger in Miami

A fresh approach to family gatherings: weekend brunch

Coordinating schedules among households for family gatherings has been a jumble until I asked myself why we default to weekend BBQs. Why not brunch? Turned out, the families were all available for a 10 a.m. gathering. IMG_5937Menu planning for a brunch buffet relieved me of worrying about how to get a whole bunch of hot food, e.g., grilled meats, to the table at the same time. Instead, the warm foods were an apple pie, a French toast casserole prepared the night before and some cinnamon rolls popped out of a can. IMG_5934A few minutes before guests were expected, we placed maple turkey bacon and real bacon on the raclette grill. The anchors of the buffet were two different fruit salads. One is my classic standby that is typically in the fridge (and easy to pack for lunches): strawberry, pineapple and blueberry. The other comprised chunks of peeled, Golden Delicious apple, red seedless grapes, cantaloupe chunks, kiwi slices and mint (adopted and corrupted from a Food 52 recipe with similar ingredients). I placed mint atop the berry pineapple salad too. Out came a jug of real Vermont maple syrup and we were all set. I basically poured a cup of coffee, sat back and relaxed watching everyone dig in at their own pace.

Shrimp, scallops and black-eyed peas

Only good things come from pancetta. My boyfriend used to travel to a small town in northern Italy and was rather surprised that pancetta popped up in breakfast, lunch and dinner. I have no problem with that whatsoever. For a shrimp and scallop dinner, I opted to cook them separately.

pancetta melting
pancetta melting

The scallops were sautéed after melting thinly sliced garlic into pancetta. The key to pancetta is to dice it and then let it hit a hot pan. Let the fat liquefy and brown the meat. Then add to it, starting with garlic. In this case, then the scallops. To deglaze, I squeezed fresh Meyer lemon juice on the pan. For the black-eyed peas, I just added them to a little pot of browned pancetta. Parsley can also be added at the end of cooking such a dish to brighten up the flavors.

keep parsley on hand at all times
keep parsley on hand at all times

IMG_5905The shrimp for this dinner was paired in the cooking process with a vegetable. I was trying a great recipe from a Food 52 cookbook for roasted cauliflower, which calls for parboiling in a combo of wine, water and olive oil. The cauliflower is then placed on a roasting pan in the oven. I had reserved the wine broth and brought it back to a boil for the shrimp. Surprisingly, none of this seemed difficult. Soon enough, the table was laden with a bowl of shrimp, a bowl of scallops, a dish of black-eyed peas and a plate of roasted cauliflower.


Kale, peas and mint pasta salad

I just made up this recipe. I didn’t feel like going to the grocery store again after a series of shopping outings over New Year’s weekend. A big bag of kale was already on hand. So was the mint. Upon opening the freezer, I saw half a bag of green peas. Mint and peas have a lovely affinity for each other that is well-established. The idea for this pasta salad came together in my head after my re-organization of my recipe binders yesterday. Images of lovely pasta salads with greens already imbedded in my head drove me to open the pantry, where a bag of orecchiette awaited. kalepasta saladThe curves of the orecchiette (little ears) pasta would be perfect for picking up the peas. For the mint and kale, I clipped them with herb scissors to easily fold little slices into the salad. The binding dressing is the classic half-sour cream, half-mayonaisse mix. Add salt and pepper to taste.

New Year, Blank Slate and a Reorganized Recipe Binder

Time to clear the deck and get all those recipe clippings out of the to-do pile. For years, I have organized recipes in binders. bindersI tear them out of magazines and clip them from newspapers. I jot down a family recipe or receive one in email after a party. In the past, I kept this all very neat. Of late, I had had really let it go. There was a grouping in front of one binder of the last-added recipes. IMG_5922This was the on-deck group for sorting later in the proper, existing binder sections. Then, there was the grouping collecting dust in a magazine rack. The turn of the new year beckoned as the right time to literally sort out this recipe madness. The other challenge was I have three binders. One is for desserts and easily identifiable as such. With the other two, IMG_5928I tend to grab the wrong one for meats or salads. All that was needed is a label on the binding of each with a rundown of the contents. This is one of those really simple tasks I just normally don’t get around to do addressing. It really only took a half-hour or so to collect the stray recipes, organize them, file them and label the binders. The best part? I added a new section of smoothie recipes to start the year with a healthy kick.