Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Refreshing Corn and Fennel Salad

My favorite menu item for a get-together is a dish that is simple, easy, colorful, and something new for the taste buds to experience. On Mother's Day we ended up having a little get-together in Dubuque. My parents drove the two hours from Wisconsin and we celebrated with Paul and his parents. Since my place with four roommates isn't equipped for such a formal gathering, Paul's parents invited us to spend the day at their lovely house. The event was our idea so we brought a majority of the food to cook on their grill. Although my parents did most of the work in Wisconsin I made an easy, healthy, refreshing corn and fennel salad as they were on their way. This side dish was colorful and satisfying. I highly recommend making this for summer picnics, graduations, family reunions, or any occasion since its flavors will accompany anything.

Refreshing Corn and Fennel Salad

Bright and Colorful!

Corn and Fennel Salad
Adapted from Food Network's Money Saving Meals With Sandra Lee

2 cups frozen corn, thawed. (fresh corn, cooled, would be even better)
1 Granny smith apple, cored and chopped
1 fennel bulb, quarted, cored, and thinly sliced
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
1/2 cup olive oil


1) In a large serving bowl combine corn, granny smith apple, chopped fennel, chopped onion, and cilantro. Mix together.
2) In a small bowl mix cumin, salt and pepper, vinegar and mustard. Whisk the olive oil in slowly so the vinaigrette doesn't separate.
3) Add the vinaigrette to the salad; coat the salad. Best if chilled for a half hour before serving to allow the flavors to marinate the salad.
4) Garnish with a few sprigs of cilantro right before serving.

It's So Attractive in this Lovely Glass Bowl!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lean and Juicy Cilantro and Jalapeño Burgers

Last weekend Paul and I went on our annual camping trip with some friends. Instead of having traditional hot dogs I whipped up some tasty burger patties that we cooked over a grill plate on the bonfire. Processing the ground beef in the Marinade Express makes the meat light and extra juicy, but without being greasy. This recipe is something that I came up with because of what I happened to have on hand.  A lot of cilantro adds a freshness which mixes perfectly with the spice of the jalapeños. Of course you can mix and match your own flavors but this recipe was so delicious, I had to share it. We loved them so much that we made them for dinner again the following night.

1 lb of lean ground beef
1-2 tbs of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons (or more) of fresh cilantro, minced,
1 tablespoon of onion, minced. (I used white but any kind would work).
1 Jalapeño, minced (remove all or some seeds depending on your spice preference).
Salt & pepper to taste
1 egg, to bind the beef
Sliced cheese of choice, for topping
Sliced tomato, for topping
Spinach leaves, for topping
Whole wheat buns
Raw Patties. Notice The Gorgeous Cilantro!

1) Process the ground beef in the Marinade Express using Santa Fe Salsa MX seasoning. Make sure your beef is tightly packed together. Be careful to only allow the Marinade Express to rotate 3 to 4 times, otherwise the  beef will begin to fall apart. It doesn't take very long for the Marinade Express to work its magic. Stop the drum unit so that the beef is outside of the water. Let it stand for 10 minutes to let the water drain from the beef. Then carefully remove the beef and dump out the water. (Use a colander if you are worried about losing some of the ground beef.)

2) In a large mixing bowl add ground beef, garlic, cilantro, onion, Jalapeño, salt & pepper. Using your hands, get messy and mix all of the ingredients into the beef together.

3) In a separate bowl crack one egg and whisk until frothy. Add the egg to the beef mixture. Mix the egg with your hands into the beef.

4) Flatten the beef evenly into the bowl. Use your hand to divide the beef into fours; this will help you to make evenly-sized patties. Take each section and pat tightly into a patty shape.

5) Grill, bake, or fry  the burgers on a pan until cooked as desired . I prefer some pink in my burgers and after using the Marinade Express it is safe to do this, as up to 99.5 % of all bacteria is eliminated!

5) Top the burger with a slice of cheese-- we used Munster but any will be delicious--, top with a slice of tomato and spinach. I used whole wheat buns because they are healthier and tastier. These burgers were so flavorful and juicy I didn't use ketchup and mustard for my second serving! For the veggies I whipped up a side of sautéed asparagus minus the mushrooms; view my recipe here.

Building My Burger High!

The Finished Product Ready To Eat!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Summertime Fruity Iced Tea

Hello friends. According to the calendar it is still spring but the weather feels much more like summer, at least here in Iowa. Our wonderful summer weather has come early this year with bright sunny days, 85 degree weather, and lovely flowers blooming everywhere. Besides spending the majority of my time outside, my favorite thing about summer is all of the iced tea I get to drink! I am a tea fanatic and want to share with you the ultimate summertime drink!


My favorite tea brand is Celestial Seasonings. They have a few  fruity iced teas called cool brews. These teas are a tasty treat but the best part is that they are all-natural, calorie-free, sugar-free, and are packed with healthy antioxidants. They only take  5 minutes to brew. I toss one or two in my water glass or water bottle. It keeps me cool in the heat and keeps me hydrated all day long. Their flavors come in peach black tea, raspberry black tea, blueberry green tea, and tropical fruit herbal tea. All of them are refreshing but my all-time favorite is the raspberry black tea. Try them out; I know you'll be pleased.

What's your favorite summertime drink?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Pork Chops Wrapped in Bacon With a Side of Potatoes--Grilled!

A few weeks ago I had a friend from high school stop by for dinner. I hadn't seen him in two years so I wanted to make something special. I thawed some pork chops and bacon and Paul started up the charcoal grill. I have never been a big fan of pork chops because they are usually dry and flavorless.Recently my parents served me one wrapped with a strip of bacon around to add some flavor and help lock in the moisture. This little trick combined with prepping the pork chops in the Marinade Express makes pork chops my new melt-in-your-mouth favorite. A blend of red potatoes, sweet potatoes, and red onions is the perfect accompaniment.

For Pork Chops:
4 pork chops
4 pieces of bacon
salt & pepper to taste

For Potatoes:
2 to 3 sweet potatoes
2 to 3 red potatoes
1/2 red onion cut into slices
2 pats of butter
salt & pepper to taste

Directions:  For Pork Chops
1) Process the pork chops in the Marinade Express for  20 minutes. I used Burgundy Pepper MX seasoning because I love the hint of spice it adds to the pork.
2) Drain and rinse the Marinade Express drum unit. Then process the bacon in the Marinade Express using the neutral MX seasoning for 10 minutes. It is important to process the bacon second because it really breaks up the fat and coats the Marinade Express drum.
3) Season the pork chops with salt & pepper or other seasonings of choice.
4) Wrap the bacon around each pork chop. Secure it with a skewer or a toothpick. If you are grilling these and using a wooden skewer or toothpick make sure that you soak the wooden skewer in water for a while so that they won't start on fire when put on the grill. Or just keep a fire extinguisher near by.
5) Cook on the grill for 8 to 10 minutes per side. Cook time may vary depending on the heat of the grill.

Directions: For Potatoes
1) Process the potatoes in the Marinade Express using a veggie MX seasoning mix for 10 minutes. This is a great way to wash off the dirt and pesticides and it eliminates the peeling process.
2) Cut the potatoes into bite-sized pieces. Cut the onions into strips.
3) Place on a sheet of aluminum foil. Add two pats of butter and salt & pepper to taste. Fold the corners of the aluminum foil to the middle so that it locks the heat in.
4) Cook potatoes on the grill for 15 to 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Mediterranean Chicken Pizza--Grilled!

Since spring is in full force and summer is approaching I have been cooking on the grill whenever I get the chance. Of course I love anything that is grilled: steaks, chicken, fish, veggies, and burgers. Since Paul and I have been into making our own pizzas we discovered how wonderful a pizza cooked on a charcoal grill  tastes. It adds a smoky, delectable, summery flavor to every morsel of the pizza, and adds an extra crunchiness to the crust. Previously we've thrown together a basic pizza with various cheeses, turkey pepperoni, mushrooms, and veggies. It is very delicious but when I found a recipe for a Mediterranean chicken pizza in a catalog that our local grocery store mails out every season, I thought it would be perfect for the grill. It was an instant favorite!

Uncooked Mediterranean Chicken Pizza

Mediterranean Chicken Pizza After It Has Been Grilled.

Mediterranean Chicken Pizza--Grilled. Adapted from Hy-Vee Seasons Spring 2012

1/4  cup pesto sauce
1 thin crust pizza crust (I use Jiffy and make mine fresh from the mix)
1 Roma tomato, thinly sliced
1/4 cup diced red onion
1 cup cubed chicken, partially cooked
1/2 cup canned artichoke hearts, sliced
1/4 cup halved, pitted kalamata olives
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese


1) Process the chicken in the Marinade Express for 20 minutes. I used a Greek flavored MX seasoning.
2) Preheat the grill, whether it be gas or charcoal.
3) Cut the chicken up into bite-sized cubes, precook in the oven for 10 minutes at 300 degrees. Don't overcook the chicken because it will cook some more on the pizza. Just cook it enough so it isn't completely raw when you assemble your pizza
4) While the chicken is cooking and the grill is preheating prepare the toppings and the crust. Follow the directions for making your dough; it's pretty simple.
5) Spread pesto sauce over the crust. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and the remaining toppings.
6) Grill for 15 to 20 minutes or until crust is golden brown and cheese is melted. The cook time might be longer if you are using a charcoal grill, depending on the temperature of the coals. I use a basic metal pizza pan to cook the pizza on but if you are using an already-made crust I think it would be fun to try cooking it directly on the grill-- gotta love those grill marks!

I Put My Knife and Cutting Board To Good Use

Variations: I have made this pizza twice now. The second time the pizza turned into a vegetarian version because I didn't have chicken on hand. The veggie version was still very satisfying. We added fresh mushrooms to the toppings which made the pizza even more delicious, in my opinion.

Mediterranean Vegetarian Pizza On The Grill

Mediterranean Vegetarian Pizza

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Love Story of A Dresser

For about two years I had been on the hunt for a dresser, one that I could make an affordable DIY project, hard work that has a satisfying finish. I had been using a dresser that was a hand-me-down. It was originally white, dirty, and damp from sitting in a garage. I painted it a vivid green in an attempt to brighten up the dark, dingy room that I was living in at the time. However, once I moved into my current room which is large, sunny, and has a wall that is painted a cheery yellow-orange color, the dresser no longer suited my needs. Plus I was fed up with the cheap compressed wood drawers that never seemed to fit correctly. That dresser actually began to depress me when I looked at it; it was proof that environmental surroundings can play a role in a person's mental state. It was time to find a bigger and better replacement, no matter the cost.


I finally found the perfect dresser on Craigslist, already stripped of paint. It is oak from the 1890s. It has wonderful features: five panels on the sides, skeleton key holes in each drawer, and a strip of wood where a mirror once was attached. I purchased this dresser at a reasonable price with a large project of sanding, staining, and finding the perfect hardware ahead of me. I was under the impression that I was skilled enough to bring this 1890s dresser back to life. When my dad came for a visit, he knew that this antique needed a lot more work than I was skilled to do. Luckily my parents are good friends with a wonderfully talented carpenter and woodworker, Mike. My dad insisted on taking it back to Janesville to let Mike examine it.
Dissecting the Dresser

Reassembling the Dresser

Sure enough the dresser needed more work than I was aware of. The back of the dresser needed to be replaced, the wood needed to be sanded with a machine (not by hand, as I was picturing), the five panels on the side needed to be removed so all of the previous paint thinner could be scraped out, and the bottom of the drawers needed to be replaced. The whole thing needed to be glued back together properly. Mike sanded, deconstructed and reconstructed, and replaced parts of the dresser making it more sturdy and reliable. I learned a lot from Mike; he even pointed us in the right direction for types of stains and techniques to use.

After my mom and I spent a weekend staining the wood a dark brown with a twinge of red and applying multiple coats of polyurethane during the next week, the dresser turned out to be just what I had pictured. We even found some crystal hardware at Hobby Lobby which gave the dresser a hint of sparkle and completed its 1890s feel. My dresser is now a focal point of my room, instead of something that I try to hide. I am proud to show it off and tell people that I refinished it. Of course I could not have done it without the help of Mike, the talented carpenter, and my mom's hard work. I appreciate it, and I know that it will be a piece of furniture I will have as long as it lasts. Who knows, maybe it will outlast me and become a beloved dresser in someone else's home. It was worth all of the hard work to find my dream dresser!


Notice the Side Panels
It Looks Perfect in My Room!

What does your dream furniture look like?