Friday, June 28, 2013

Apéritif Friday - Maid-Rites, My Way

SCHOOL'S OUT FOR SUMMER!

Is there ever a better feeling as a kid than to have the wide expanse of 2.5 months of sun-filled days ahead of you, with no school or waking early or studying for tests? Especially before you're working years? I think not. Long stretches of days with friends at the pool, water park, mall and video gaming all lie ahead, and that first day of school in August seems years away.

While normally on Fridays I like to cook something a bit more elaborate, there are other times, namely the kick-off of summer, when everyone likes something quick and easy so we can all get back to our summertime fun.

When teenaged friends show up around dinner time, I try to come up with something that most everyone likes, can be consumed quickly on paper plates, and is equally simple to prepare. While I'm not a fan whatsoever of the fast food version of the slider, I do enjoy making them at home. And everyone I know devours them quickly.

I was born and raised until 16 in the small town of Milan, Illinois, on the Iowa/Illinois border near the Mississippi River. There's a little diner in Milan called Maid-Rite, and their signature sandwich is of the loose-meat variety. I grew up thinking that this was standard diner fare, but found out quickly upon moving away from the area that this not the case. Maid-Rites simply don't exist anywhere in the metropolitan St. Louis, Champaign-Urbana or Chicago areas - places I've called home since moving from the Quad Cities years ago.

Unlike a sloppy joe, the loose meat sandwich consists simply of ground beef and spices served on a steamed bun. It's a great foundation, but that just doesn't work in my house. So here's what you need to make my version of the Maid-Rite:
Hawaiian Rolls
One Pound of Ground Beef or Turkey (I used turkey)
1 Package of Onion Soup Mix
2-4 Garlic cloves, minced
1 Small Onion, chopped
1 Carrot, chopped
1 rib Celery, chopped
1/2 Bell pepper (I used orange), chopped
3T Worcestershire Sauce
1/2-3/4 cup Cheddar Cheese Spread
4 slices Provolone Cheese (or any other kind you like)
Franks Red Hot Sauce (not pictured, because I'm a space cadet)
Pickle Chips - a must!

Start by sautéing the vegetables in a bit of olive oil. Or butter. Or a combo - whatever floats your boat!
I know that loose meat sandwich purists all over the world are probably cringing, but if I ever have a chance to sneak a vegetable of any kind into this kid,
Then I do it. He doesn't even bother picking them out anymore. Sweet.

Push the vegetables to the edges and plop the meat into the middle of the skillet. Brown it up, breaking up the meat as it cooks. This is supposed to be crumbly and messy, so go after it with your wooden spoon. The smaller the ground meat, the better.
Once the meat is fully cooked and incorporated with the vegetables, add the garlic and the package of soup mix.
And a large blob of cheddar cheese. Or two, to your liking. I added two.
Toss in your Worcestershire sauce. DO NOT ADD ANY SALT! There's plenty of sodium in the soup mix, worcestershire and cheese. If you'd like, add some ground pepper.

Offer up a spoonful for your taste tester to see if anything needs adjusting. After he deems it ready, add the Franks Red Hot Sauce. Because he might not like it spicy, but you do!
Now for the fun part. Assemblage. Cut the Hawaiian rolls in half, leaving the individual rolls attached, and line each bottom with a piece of cheese.
Pile on the meat mixture. It should be slightly saucy, but not overly so. Put on however much you like. Since I had two slabs of rolls, I used half on each. 
Place the tops of the rolls on the bottom half, and place each group of six on a large sheet of aluminum foil sprayed with cooking spray. Wrap them up like a present, sealing tightly.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes. The idea is to get the sandwiches relatively hot, the outsides of the rolls will get just slightly crispy, and the cheese will be fully melted when your taste tester pulls them apart.
Plop a pickle or two on each sandwich and enjoy. The vegetables and pickles add great texture and crunch to the seasoned, spicy meat and the buns have a bit of the steamed effect from baking in the oven. Two of these is plenty for me, but not the men in my life. They eat three or four.

For the teenagers who magically appeared, I made chocolate-banana-peanut butter smoothies, and added a slice of watermelon to their plates. For the smoothies, I blended two packages of chocolate Carnation Instant Breakfast powder, about a cup of vanilla yogurt, 3-4 frozen bananas and a large scoop of peanut butter in the blender. I added skim milk as needed to thin them out. Yummy! 

Aren't they sweet?

Right. Positively Lovely.
OH - I almost forgot! The adult apéritif for the evening? Wine. Plain and simple. Beer would be great with these, but I stopped consuming that stuff a few years post college. Perhaps the weekly ritual of dipping a common plastic cup into a giant bucket of luke-warm Pabst Blue Ribbon on Friday afternoons scarred me for beer consumption later in life?

Perhaps.

Enjoy! Coming next week - outdoor cabin cooking at it's finest.

XOXO,
Jen

Monday, June 24, 2013

Today's Letter to the Kids at Summer Camp

Every day I write the kids a letter while they are at summer camp. Sometimes they are rather mundane, but on other days, quite shocking and exciting. Today's letter went something like this:

Dear Kids:

You're never going to believe this one...

Last night, it was a bit warm and humid and I didn't sleep well. Neither did Dad. We got up around 3:30 for a drink of water, then settled back in bed to try to get a few more hours of sleep. Just as I dozed off, I heard a little rustle at the window behind our heads. I ignored it, but heard it again a few seconds later. I stayed really still, with my eyes closed, willing it to go away. I sensed that Dad heard it too. It happened again. I know it sounds ludicrous, but I actually wondered if a squirrel was sitting on the deck rail, throwing nuts at our screen, just totally messing with us?

I know, I know...

When I heard it a fourth time, I finally spoke up. "What is that?"

As he rolled over to switch on his bedside lamp, Dad replied, "I don't know. It's not a bat, is it?" The light illuminated a flurry across the opposite wall. "HOLY $#IT! IT IS A BAT!" and he scrambled faster than a cheetah out of the room. Seriously.

Meanwhile, your very brave mother whimpered under the covers. "Make it go away. Make it go away." I regressed decades in those seconds, like a child, pretending that if I hid under the sheet, all the scary stuff would leave my room.

Hearing my plea, Dad hollered, "Where are you? Where'd you go?"

He mistakenly thought I sprinted out of the bedroom too. "I'm under the sheet! I can still hear it in here with me! Get it out!"

"Well, run for it!"

I could tell that he would be no help. You know him - every man for himself and all. So I threw back the covers and bolted for the door, ducking and squawking under the circling bat. It was going nuts in there, madly circling the bedroom, flapping wildly, rustling the curtains, dive-bombing into your Dad's open closet. With relief, I confirmed that my closet was tightly closed and my clothes would remain guano free.

We joined forces in the kitchen, gathering our wits, plotting our next move in Bat Extradition. We knew that at a minimum we had to coax it out of our bedroom. But unlike Grandma and Grandpa's midnight date with the bat in their room a few years ago, we knew we would not swat at it with a broom or a discarded pair of Grandpa's underwear.

Speaking of underwear, your dad looked down and deemed that he was very uncomfortable chasing a bat through the cabin in the nude. But unwilling to venture into the bedroom with that thing exposed, he opted for some dirty clothes in the laundry room.

Thank goodness I hadn't done the laundry that day.

While he dressed, I provided a play-by-play behind the security of the half-closed bathroom door. I figured I could slam the door shut and live out the remainder of the summer in the bathroom should our furry friend decide to leave the bedroom. It was still circling our bedroom wildly, mostly staying toward the top of the ceiling.

An idea occurred to me. Bats being nocturnal creatures, I wondered aloud, "Maybe we need to turn that light off?"

"Yes." Dad excitedly agreed. "Go for it."

"But you turned it on," I whined.

"But it was your idea," he insisted.

Crap. I could see that this would fall into the category of poop and puke. A Mom job. I gulped some large lungfuls of air, held my breath and made a break for it, protesting, "I don't like this, I don't like this!" the entire way. I scrambled in as fast as I could, turned off the light and dashed back.

All on my hands and knees. The bat didn't dip below bed level, so that seemed the safest, most logical approach. Unfortunately, my mad scramble removed the top layer of skin from my knees and the tops of my feet. Rug burns. But...it worked! Mr. Bat chilled out and hung upside down from the ceiling. Next step? Get it out of our room. So Dad googled "how to get rid of a bat" and it suggested opening a door or window, then scraping the bottom of a plastic container opposite the door. I guess Mr. Bat would use sonar to realize sound was not bouncing back from the door, and fly on out? It was worth a shot. Dad stood outside, turned on the outside light, eyes glued to the door, and I sat on the steps to the loft and scraped an empty plastic cup.

Success! Well, partially. The bat left our bedroom and settled in the loft.

Yes, I'm fully aware that's where you kids sleep. But the good news is that you are at summer camp.

We continued trying to coax the bat to the door with the scraping plastic method, to no avail. He would not budge. Dad said he was probably tired, and scared. And we should just go back to bed. Suddenly he had feelings for the poor, widdle biddie bat.

In bed, neither of us slept. Obviously, thanks to the blood sucking mammal upstairs. While tossing and turning we brainstormed:

"Maybe I could just bash it into the wall and kill it."

"Then I'd have to clean up bat blood and guts. No way."

"Well, I'm leaving tomorrow. I guess you'll just have to call a guy to come get rid of it."

"We could try the towel method."

"Yeah, we could do that. But what if it bites us? Or escapes through one end of the towel?"

"We'll have to use the Ov Gloves and your work gloves."

"Too bad we don't have a coffee can to trap it, like the website suggests."

"Damned Keurig."

"But what if we use a different container? Do we have a big enough plastic container?"

"Yes, I think we do. That'll work."

Fast forward thirty minutes, the sun is rising, and we knew sleep would elude us until we resolved the bat situation. But first, coffee. We needed some stimulation before going into battle.

It was the worst cup of coffee I've ever had. I couldn't stop creeping up the loft stairs to ensure Mr. Bat remained on the slanted wall where we could potentially trap him. We were unsure how to cover the plastic container once we got him trapped inside. A towel would probably work, yes, but we were still concerned about the bat biting one of us. Or escaping before we got the towel in place. I placed my cowboy hat over the container and showed him the alternative.

Dad considered that. "Not a bad idea. I think that could work. But first let me see if I can find a video on capturing a bat.
And I must say...Thank you Lord, for creating technology, video, computers, and DSL for the Northwoods. You Tube helped us solidify the plan. Rather than use the hat as a lid, we watched a successful bat capture using the plastic container method with a piece of cardboard to slide over the top. That definitely seemed the best option. But did we even have a piece of cardboard that would work?
YES! The box of Caribou Coffee K Cups. The Keurig saved the day after all!

We donned protective gloves and quietly ascended the stairs. You know me...I had to get a picture to prove that he really existed, but it was dark, and I was not about to sacrifice my safety or the belfry for the sake of a picture. So this blurry, dark one's all I got.
I held the plastic container with both hands, arms fully extended, inching my way along with baby steps. Your dad followed, encouraging my bravery. "Relax - he can sense if your nervous and might attack."

Gee. Thanks for the warm and fuzzies, dear.

"Good job, Bruce. You're approaching the tunnel...that's it...you're in the cave."

Good grief.

"Be quiet, he can hear you."

Duh. Really?

"Not yet, not yet, a little closer, a few more steps, keep going..."

BAM!

I GOT HIM! But it was a bit close for comfort...Dad actually thought I brought the container down on his gut, cutting him in half. But not so! I had him fully trapped and interestingly enough, he didn't even move. So I scraped the bowl along the plaster ceiling, and he finally dropped into the bottom. Dad carefully placed the cardboard over the top as I slowly removed the bowl from the wall, and we had him!
I took him outside (clad in my nightgown, naturally), and removed the cardboard top. Shaking like a leaf, I gently turned the bowl out onto the deck rail outside our bedroom window where all this nonsense originated, ironically enough. Once he hit the open air, he took off to eat seven million mosquitos like a good little bat.

Two hours later, I finally caught my breath. And seriously considered spiking my coffee with Bailey's or Xanax. Or both.

I hope you're having as much fun at camp as we are here! We love you both and miss you tons.

XOXO,
Mom


Friday, June 21, 2013

Apéritif Friday - Perfect Burgers with a Side of Cabin Stories

It's one of my favorite days of the year - SUMMER SOLSTICE! Today we celebrate the longest day of the year. It's been a bit of a rough go today at the cabin though...rain all day, including a deluge this morning with a driving windstorm causing the canopy of our pontoon to rise up on the boat, acting like a sail. That, coupled with whitecaps on our little 100 acre lake, caused the boat to actually start moving off the lift, much to Mr. Musky's horror as he sipped coffee while peering out the window.

He's seen a lot of funny stuff with his coffee in hand while gazing at the lake. Taking the cake has to be when his buddy, Moby Mike, dropped his fishing pole in the water (how???), reached down to retrieve it, tried lying down on the dock, then fell in himself. On a chilly October morning, when the water was approximately 45 degrees. Fully clothed in layers for a day of fishing. To this day, there is only one word my husband can muster to describe that scene:

"Awesome."

So back to this morning's issue...I quickly hopped into come clothes as my nightgown wouldn't do for chasing down runaway boats, and threw on a raincoat and raced down to the dock with my partner in crime to right the situation. Rain pelted me in the face, but guess what? 

The mosquitos didn't bite! Hurrah!

We quickly lowered the canopy as far as it would go and he madly cranked up the boat a few more inches to keep it in place. Lightning lit up the morning sky, and he shouted above the swirling wind and pounding rain: "That's good enough! Quick! Get outta here, or we're gonna die!"

I dashed up the stairs as fast as my legs would carry me, and when I reached the top I glanced back to ensure the love of my life was safe and sound behind me. He wasn't there! I looked all over, rain blinding my vision, heart pounding vigorously, only to see him at the cabin basement door. He PASSED ME UP TO SAVE HIMSELF! Apparently my 20 yard dash speed isn't fast enough in life threatening situations, nor is chivalry anywhere to be found when lightning and aluminum docks are in the same field of vision. 

He was safe though. And that's all that matters, right? 

So...what does this all have to do with homemade burgers, the great American summer meal, that should rightly be consumed at least twice per month during the grilling season, in my own little humble opinion?

Absolutely nothing. Sometimes writing about food just needs some good tales to go along for the ride.

Before we deposited the kids at camp, we treated ourselves with what has finally become the Perfect Burger. Like Mr. Musky's homemade pizza, his burgers took years of trial-and-error and are finally deemed top-notch by all who devour them.

As always though, priorities and warmer weather dictate a summer version of the apéritif.
For my North Shore Citrus Mint Spritzer,  I squeezed half a white grapefruit into a glass, added 1/2 ounce of mint simple syrup, the juice of 1/4 lime and 2.5 ounces of vodka. I topped it off with club soda, and downed it in 30 seconds, thanks to the light, fizzy refreshing flavors dancing on my tastebuds. OK, maybe 30 minutes, but I was very pleased to have enough ingredients for a second round. I think I'll have another this weekend by the campfire.
But unfortunately, I won't have a photo-bombing daughter to entertain me. She's still living it up at summer camp. She gets to ride horses EVERY day, play games with her friends, swim in the lake, and whatever other activities she chooses. Not that I would know what those other activities include...because I have not received ONE LETTER from her or her brother. WAAAAHHHH!  They're not missing burger night at all. In fact, they have one weekly at camp. And they love it. But something tells me that our burgers might be a bit different (code for better).

Back on the clock...Mr. Musky's Perfect Burger recipe includes the following:


One photobombing teenager and 1.5 pounds of ground beef - 20% fat. Come on. Let's be real. We're making CHEESEBURGERS! Not tofu burgers, not turkey burgers, not bean burgers. Lean beef is not an option. Save that for taco salad or something.

Also, he uses one pound of ground veal. I like to break the meat up and crumble it into a bowl, adding a little beef then a little veal so it's kind of layered and will mix easier. One of the keys to good burgers is to handle the meat as minimally as possible, and breaking the meat up and layering it into your mixing bowl helps.

That peace loving kid up there wanted blue burgers, so we cut up about 4 oz of good blue cheese and added it to the meat. Every burger needs a little extra help, so Mr. Musky microplaned a shallot and a clove of garlic. We were out of Worcestershire sauce, so we substituted 2T of Sweet Baby Ray's Marinade. 
I added the crumbled blue cheese, the egg, and plenty of steak seasoning. Any seasoning will work, but at a minimum make sure you add plenty of salt and pepper. Yes - I understand that this looks really gross.

To mix the meat, run your clean, ringless right hand around the outside of the dish, turning the bowl with your left hand while folding the mixture over into the center.
This technique also helps with handling the meat as little as possible, while ensuring all of the ingredients are blended well. DO NOT OVERWORK THE MEAT, or your burgers will suck.

Just kidding! I'm just checking to see if y'all are still with me. They won't suck, but they might be tough and that's no fun. 

Take a hunk o' meat about the size of a 14" softball out of the bowl and loosely form it into a ball.
This was not enough meat. I was instructed by the master to add more.

Put a piece of waxed or parchment paper over the meatball, then put a salad plate on top, gently pressing down. Trust me. It's all the burger making rage!
Waa LAH! A perfectly formed burger patty, and guess what? All your burgers will be exactly the same size and thickness, so they are perfectly cooked. Thus...PERFECT BURGERS!
Trim the excess edge of the patty left by the indentation of the salad plate and return the extra meat to the bowl. Repeat as often as necessary for the other burgers. We got eight out of this batch. Put them in the refrigerator. Unlike other meat, you do NOT want to put these burgers on the grill at room temperature, or they will fall apart. They'll go on ice cold, straight out of the Fridgidaire, as my Grandma Owen called it. Or Ice Box, as my dad called it. I was a very confused child in the kitchen.

Next, all good burgers need some dressing up. I call them the accessories. Layer several slices of bacon in an aluminum pan, along with a chopped onion or two.

Pause while you're slaving away, irritation creeping up your neck, at the secrets being told by your onlookers. HELLO PEOPLE! I'M STANDING RIGHT HERE! WATCH OUT OR I'M GONNA HAWK A LOOGIE IN YOUR BURGERS LIKE RITCHIE USED TO WHEN I WORKED AT THE DAIRY QUEEN BECAUSE PEOPLE WOULD WALK IN 10 MINUTES BEFORE CLOSING AND HAVE THE NERVE TO ORDER FOOD!
Not really. About me spitting in my family's burgers. That's gross. But it's true about Ritchie. He was scary. I just kept practicing my curly-Qs on my soft serve cones and paid no mind to the frightful goings on back in the kitchen.

To this day I will not eat food at a Dairy Queen.

Back to the toppings...because I had one and I like a bit of spice, I added a sliced jalapeño to the bacon and onions, deemed them ready, and sent them on their way with Mr. Musky to the grill.
The last indoor step requires a bit o butter (about 1/2 stick), some powdered garlic and ciabatta rolls. Slice the rolls in half, melt the butter in the microwave, and sprinkle in the garlic powder to your liking. We love it, so I add about a teaspoon or so. Mix it together and brush it on the cut side of your buns. 

Finally! Time for me to seize the supervisory role and see how things are going down on the patio.

Smoky bacon meets my nose. Good things are happening with the Perfect Burger's sidekicks, but they're not quite there. 
Somebody questions my authority. So I go back to sipping that second Apéritif. I get this look often.

My buttered buns are looking good. Heh Heh.
AH! Done!
And now for the main event. Those chilled suckers are ready for some grillin' action.
On they go over medium-high (about 375 degrees) direct heat for five minutes.
After five minutes, flip them to cook for another five minutes, then pull them off the direct heat and top them with a slice of cheddar cheese for additional decadence.
After reading and researching and perfecting his grilling techniques, Mr. Musky swears by using a thermometer. It doesn't matter what you're grilling, just use one to ensure you don't over or undercook your meat. We like our burgers medium, so he pulls them off when they reach an internal temperature of 150 degrees.

Grab a paper plate (real plates defy burger consumption logic, no?) and load it up. I like mayonnaise mixed with a bit of siracha on mine, in addition to the grilled onions, jalapeño and bacon.
Devour with a glass of good red wine. Seriously. The burger actually makes the wine taste better! Feel sorry for the dogger, who would die for a bite of burger. OK...maybe not die, but would definitely create a foot-long sliver of slimy drool for one.
See! The Perfect Burger is even the doggie's favorite!
And finally...something really kind of funny...I made this awesome squash medley to go with the burgers. It was deliriously yummy, with some spice and crunchy toasted almonds and fantastic texture and flavors.

Aside from sampling it after I cooked it, not one person ate a bite. The burgers were that good. I guess that makes them worthy of their Perfect title.

Needless to say, I ate squash medley for lunch six days straight.

Thanks for reading an extraordinarily long post today. More cabin adventures coming your way next week.

XOXO,
Jen




Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Another Year Down

I had to share my birthday this year.
With this guy. But I didn't mind. He is my father, after all.

And this one.
He participated 50% in the creation of cute kids. I kinda like him, too.

And this guy in my life?

Sits and waits for a boat ride. When he gets impatient and tired, he lies down to wait.
He would wait all day for that ride.

She also gets impatient for a boat ride.
But definitely knows how to get her party on.
She enjoys performing the function of quality control before the wine is poured into the sangria container, while always maintaining a level of decorum. Note the crossed legs.

This boy, who can't be bothered to fully turn around for a photo, cracks me up.
We dropped him off for eight weeks of summer camp yesterday. After hugging us goodbye, reassuring me he will use deodorant, brush his teeth, eat an apple each day, apply sunscreen liberally and drench himself constantly in DEET, he announced that it was time for us to go because he had to go find some eight-year-olds to pick a fight with.

Har. har.

And her.
What am I going to do for eight weeks without sound fashion advice? What am I going to do without someone to tell me all about the drama of the soon-to-be sophomore crowd? What am I going to do without country music on the radio all. the. time? What am I going to do without What Not To Wear or Say Yes to the Dress blaring in the background while the sound of tap tap tap on the phone plunks out earth shattering messages of importance to the world famous PEHS contingency?
I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to work and frolic in the Northwoods playground. I'm going to go out to dinner nearly every night with my Musky Man. I'm going to bask in the sound of silence, with the exception of the occasional loon call and a pack of ferocious coyotes gnashing their teeth on some unfortunate prey in the middle of the night. And if the moon aligns correctly, especially this weekend, I'm going to catch me the monster of the sea.

But this time, I'm setting the bar a bit higher and hope to have it on my own line. Not Grandpa's.

XOXO,
Jen