Posts tagged ‘homemade’

Summer BBQ

Everyone has a slightly different meaning of appropriate cook-out foods depending on your cultural and regional backgrounds. Growing up in NJ, a summer BBQ always meant hamburgers and hot dogs, potato salad, and chips. To my husband, who was born in Brazil, no cook-out is complete without linguica (Brazilian sausage) and short ribs. I have also heard that BBQ and cook-out can signal two totally different affairs if you are from the southern US.

No matter what, it is hard to disagree that anything off the grill just screams summer. My husband got a new Weber charcoal grill for his birthday yesterday, so we are excited to have many grilled treats this summer. Here are some of my favorite summer recipes for the grill. These are all perfect for any special graduation celebrations or Memorial Day BBQs coming up!


Homemade Shake Shack – Two Ways


Fingerling Potato and Asparagus Salad


Grill Basket Veggie Panini


Sweet Potato Grill Fries


Greek Herbed Turkey Burgers


Grilled Pizza


Beer Can Chicken


Drunken Grilled Fruit


May 23, 2014 at 7:43 am 1 comment

Homemade Shake Shack Two Ways

Have you heard of Shake Shack? In some ways, I would lightly call it the “In-N-Out” of New York City based on its popularity with tourists. My husband is obsessed, and was one of the first in line when they opened their Boston location. In my opinion, the regular burger at Shake Shack is overpriced and nothing to write home about. However, the Shroom Burger or the Shack Stack are worth the hype. If you have never had the privilege of indulging here while in NYC, then allow me to describe it. The Shroom Burger is two Portobello mushroom caps that have been lightly scooped out to accommodate a generous cheese filling. They are pressed together, lightly coated and then deep-fried. The result is a deliciously unhealthy, cheesy and hearty vegetarian mushroom patty. To create the Shack Stack, this monster patty is layered on top of a normal beef burger and served on a grilled potato roll. To say that this is over the top is an understatement, but more than just my husband is obsessed as evidenced by the around-the-block lines that Shake Shack draws daily.

Since we are moving out of Boston, my husband and I wanted to create a homemade version of his favorite burger. We each had our own idea of how to do this. A Shake Shack purist, his mission was to recreate as close to an exact replica as possible – double mushroom patty with a gooey cheese filling over a beef patty. I wanted to come up with a less intense version that is not quite as indulgent so that we can enjoy this treat more often at upcoming summer BBQs. In my opinion, both avenues were a messy success. Our method still needs perfecting and will never quite replicate the real deal, but for a homemade option we are quite happy!

Neither of the following are recipes, more like ingredient lists and bare bones guidelines of what we did (with pictures). If you have or plan to experiment with this chain favorite, let us know what you did that worked (or didn’t!)

Classic “Shack Stack”


Take two medium-sized Portobello mushroom caps and wash well. Gently scrape out the middle of the mushroom (what we call “gills”). Place mushroom caps between two paper towels and two microwave safe dishes. Microwave for 1.5-3 minutes, or until moisture seeps out and the mushroom caps become flat and pancake-like. Allow to cool. Mix together shredded cheese (we used Muenster and Cheddar). Form a palm sized ball of cheese. Place the cheese in the center of the mushroom caps. Surround with plastic wrap and wrap tightly to adhere the two mushroom caps together.


Allow to sit for several minutes. In separate bowls, lay out flour, a beaten egg, and plain panko bread crumbs. Dip the mushroom patty in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs, then repeat in egg and breadcrumbs.


Deep fry in canola oil until the outside is golden brown. Meanwhile, cook a burger as desired. Toast a potato roll lightly. Assemble burger with mushroom patty, lettuce, tomato and onion. Serve immediately.


Lightened Up “Shack Stack”

Wash and prepare one mushroom patty as above. Follow instructions to flatten the mushroom cap. Mix together one to two tablespoons of shredded cheese and place in the middle of the mushroom cap. Create a covering for the cheese with either 1/4 lb ground beef mixture or a pre-formed hamburger patty.


Grill beef side down first until meat is cooked as desired, then flip for one minute to melt cheese.


Serve on toasted potato roll with lettuce, onion and tomato.



Question: Anyone hosting a memorial or graduation celebration BBQ this weekend? What is your favorite thing to make on the grill?

May 21, 2014 at 7:35 am 1 comment

Trivets from Old Tiles

I am excited to share that I have my own apartment again! Our move-in date is still a month away, but I am beyond excited to begin preparing to move again. We have gotten so many beautiful gifts from our wedding that I am excited to find a home for! It has been fun to start dreaming of how to make our new apartment a home (we are hoping not to move again for the next 4 years if possible!), but it can also be expensive. We took our first trip to IKEA last week, and even the small and inexpensive pieces add up. Since we are working on a tight budget and have some free time, I have been tackling a few DIY projects and getting back in touch with my creative side.

My first successful project has been turning old ceramic backsplash tiles into trivets (or, if you are like my husband, the things you set hot dishes on when you serve dinner). I have seen so many trivets that I love from online stores, but they all seem to come with a hefty price tag that I cannot afford. While these don’t quite fit into the “necessary and willing to pay for” line of our moving budget, they also are something that I would really like to have. I was inspired by one of my mom’s own trivets that is essentially a large decorative tile with feet, and knew that I could make something similar at a far smaller price tag!


Before starting, I headed to Michael’s to pick up some acrylic paint and brushes. I like Folk Art Multi-surface paint for any kitchen projects. It is a bit more than the store brand, but the paint is thicker and has a smoother finish, and it also has the best (and longest lasting) results when baked in the oven. To start my project, I lightly washed the tiles with soap and water. After letting them dry for 10 minutes, I lightly wiped the surface with rubbing alcohol. While they dried, I set up my workspace with newspaper, a color “palette” made out of the side of a cardboard box, water and paper towels to clean my brushes, and my dishes for pattern inspiration. I practiced a few flowers before beginning, and decided that it was less work to freehand the flowers than it was to create stencils. If you are less confident in your painting skills, I have used some great stencils for other projects before. They add a bit in up front cost, but if you will use them for multiple DIY projects than they can be worth the investment. You can also create your own stencils with card stock and an exacto knife, but this is time-consuming and works better for larger DIY projects.


After feeling confident in my painted flowers, I began to paint my tiles. I am not so much of a plan-ahead type of painter, and prefer to add slowly and let my design flow organically. I started with one large flower on each tile, then added vines, leaves, and smaller accent flowers until I was satisfied with each tile.


Once all of the tiles were complete, I transferred them to a cold oven. Then I turned the oven on to 350 F and allowed it to heat. (Do NOT put your project in a pre-heated oven!) This step allows the most even baking of the paint, and also prevents your project from cracking (a step that is more important when working with glass and fragile ceramics, but you can never be too careful!) After your oven comes to temperature, set the timer for 30 minutes and allow the tiles to bake. Once baked, allow to cool completely in the oven. The following morning, I added self-adhesive foam dots to the bottom corners of the tiles to raise them slightly off the table.


They are now awaiting a test run in my new kitchen! I love that they match my new dishes, and that they are pretty enough to be used to add some color and decoration to my new kitchen! This is a fun project that can be simplified as much or as little as you want to! I also think the painting part would be fun to do with kids! Even better, I made 4 trivets for less than one store bought trivet (about $18 for 6 acrylic paints, paint brushes, and foam dots). If you do not have old ceramic tiles, they are inexpensive at any home improvement store and will only add $1-2 per tile to your project!


Question: Are you a DIY home decorator? What has been your most successful project?

My next project? Refinishing new-to-me furniture!

April 29, 2014 at 5:19 am 2 comments

Date Night at Home

Fancy meals do not always have to be rich and heavy, as proven by this fantastic Friday night treat. Pasta and steak dishes always seem to corner the market on romantic meals, but I dislike the heavy “food coma” feeling that they often leave you with. My favorite choice for a date-night at home is seafood, since they often are quick to prepare and do not feel so weighty. This meal was again inspired by an appetizer I enjoyed on our honeymoon, where the chef perfectly seared tiny bay scallops and served them over a spicy and delicious eggplant salad. While this does not perfectly recreate the fantastic eggplant salad I enjoyed, it improves on the scallops with larger sea scallops that seem to melt in your mouth when cooked properly. If you are new to scallops, Alton Brown has a great basic tutorial that I love. Scallops can be a little pricy and turn rubbery very quickly if cooked for too long, but are worth the cost when prepared correctly. For your next stay-at-home date, try out this dinner!


Scallops with Roasted Red Peppers and Spicy Eggplant

6 vegetable servings, scallops vary depending on amount

For the Red Pepper and Eggplant Salad:

(loosely based on this recipe)

3 large red bell peppers

1 large or 2 small (about 1.5 lbs) eggplant

8 oz baby bella mushrooms, quartered

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp red chili flakes

2-3 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

For the scallops:

1/3 to 1/2 lb scallops per person

2-4 tbsp butter (depending on lbs of scallops)

1/2 lemon

Preheat the broiler in the oven. Half the red peppers and remove the stems and seeds. Lay cut-side down in a shallow baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Bake in the oven for 15-18 minutes, until peppers are soft and the skin is charred. Transfer immediately to a large plastic zip bag and let cool for 10 minutes. Submerge peppers in cold water one at a time while removing the skins. Peppers can be prepared one to two days ahead of time, if desired.

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Roughly dice peppers and peeled eggplant into 1-inch pieces. Quarter the mushrooms. Mix all vegetables in a large roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and red pepper flakes, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Roast the vegetables, stirring every 15-20 minutes, for 45-55 minutes, or until eggplant is at desired consistency according to your preference.

When the vegetables are roasting, rinse and pat dry scallops. Preheat a cast iron or heavy skillet over medium heat. Add butter and allow to melt. Add scallops, searing for approximately 2 minutes per side. The skillet should be hot enough to create a browned curst in a short time. Squeeze lemon half over scallops and remove to serving tray. Serve with eggplant and pepper mixture with brown rice.


April 25, 2014 at 8:03 am Leave a comment

Salad Weather

Summer happened overnight in Boston, it seems. It has been warmer here than it has been in Southwest FL for the past few days! Now that is hot. When my thermostat reads 88F INSIDE the house, there is absolutely no way you can convince me to turn the stove on for longer than absolutely necessary, let alone even think about using the oven. I have survived 4 Boston summers with no A/C, but if it stays this hot for much longer I might break!

To beat the heat, I end up eating a lot of salads in the summer. While I love my leafy greens, salads don’t have to be so monotonous. Here are some of the things I have been making lately:


A lovely, multi-colored, Mexican-inspired salad that is sure to brighten up any meal. I mixed mine all together right away and have enjoyed it for lunch for the past few days. You can eat it plain, serve it as a side for taco night, or even fill a tortilla with it! For those of you afraid of the long ingredient list, most of the work is just simple veggie chopping! Jicama is the most unfamiliar ingredient, but is a wonderful, naturally sweet, tropical starch-y vegetable that adds great crunch and flavor. I can see this recipe easily becoming a summertime lunch staple! I think it would be fun to turn it into a layered jar salad the next time I make it!


Who said fruit salads are just for dessert? This Mango Blueberry Quinoa Salad also makes for another great lunch salad! The lemon-basil dressing is refreshing, and the blueberries and mangoes are unexpected but delicious. This is a must-make for any fruit lover!



The last summer salad I made to go along with these delicious Chipotle Shrimp Burritos with Avocado Crema. I would highly recommend these burritos – simple, spicy, and flavorful. I cheated on the avocado crema and simply mixed a store-bought packet of guacamole with a spoonful of Greek yogurt, some extra cilantro and lime. To balance out the spicy shrimp, I kept the salad on the lighter side. This literally came together with the odds and ends left in my fridge, freezer and pantry from the week! The palmitos are acidic, soft, and refreshing. The edamame provides protein and substance, and the corn has a great natural sweetness. The dressing is heavy on lime, giving it a nice, fresh summer flavor. It reminds me of a grown-up version of succotash with a little South American flavor. It could easily be made into a main meal by adding some avocado and increasing the portion size!


Question: How do you stay cool on hot summer days? My favorite response from a friend: “I eat popsicles in my underwear.”


Palmitos Succotash

serves 3-4 as a side dish

1 can hearts of palm (palmitos), drained and sliced

1 1/2 cups shelled edamame, cooked according to package instructions

2 ears corn, steamed (about 1 1/2 cups if using frozen)

1 cup loosely packed cilantro, minced

3 scallions, greens and whites, sliced

3 limes, juiced

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp rice wine vinegar

1/4 tsp salt and garlic powder (or to taste)

Cook the edamame according to package instructions. Allow to cool. Steam the corn for 3-4 minutes. Once cool, cut the kernels from the cob. Mix the corn, edamame, and sliced palmitos together in a bowl. Add the sliced scallions and minced cilantro. Whisk together dressing of lime juice, olive oil, and rice wine vinegar. Season to taste with salt and garlic powder, then stir to combine. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.

June 3, 2013 at 5:20 am 1 comment

Homemade Smoker

All great meals start with great inspiration, no? This story begins back in March, when I was on Spring Break in Florida visiting my family. You all may remember my uncle, the creative force behind this incredible Lobster Cream Sauce and his famous jambalaya. We were sitting at dinner one night when he began describing an idea he had seen for a homemade smoker, knowing full well that he would never undertake the making of such a contraption. He described terra-cotta pots and a re-rigged hot plate, and immediately my boyfriend’s attention was captured. It took a few months of research and equipment procurement, but we finally set out to build our smoker on one of the first sunny Boston Saturdays.


The master at work

Now, I cannot give you the steps to building this big guy, as my boyfriend was the true mastermind. I know generally that it took two unglazed terra-cotta pots so big that you could probably fit me inside one of them, one for the base and one for the lid. We also used a small round grill with charcoal as a heat source instead of messing with the electric source of a hot plate. On top of the charcoal went a tin pan of wood chips soaked in water. We stacked the whole thing on some found bricks in my parking lot to allow for some air circulation. There you have it, the bare bones recollection of our construction project.



What I can more fully detail, however, is the spice rub and the sides. While there are many great pre-mixed beef rubs on the market, we decided to make our own. I mean, if we made our own smoker, might as well make it homemade all the way, right? Pre-made mixes also usually contain a lot of salt, so making your own allows you to control the sodium levels as well as the flavor. We followed this Big Bad Beef Rub recipe, adding a little extra cayenne because we both like the kick. We rubbed that all over our 6 lb brisket and let it sit for about a half hour. Once we got the smoker to the right temperature, we put the meat on, closed the lid and prayed. (We were hungry and a little nervous that our experiment would fail!) We waited, checked the smoker, added some water to the wood chips, and waited some more. The total cooking process took 10 hours, so we did a lot of waiting! To pass the time, we cooked up some delicious southern sides: Ina Garten’s jalapeno cheddar corn bread and my favorite Beer Braised Collard Greens.


A drool-worthy Instagram of our meal

We finally sat down to eat around 9pm. The results were well worth the wait! The beef was tender, the smokey flavor permeated each piece, and there was so much flavor and juiciness that nothing else was needed to enjoy the brisket. The cornbread was also great, with a more savory flavor profile than traditional cornbread. The collard greens were great as always!


Of course, we had days of leftovers. To keep meals interesting, we reheated some of the smoked brisket in some BBQ sauce and filled some Portugese rolls with it to make BBQ Beef Paninis. With some asparagus “fries” these were a delicious way to repurpose the leftovers!


The homemade smoker experiment was well worth the effort. It costs way less than buying a smoker ($200 vs. $700+) and is a lot of fun to experiment with the construction process. In the end, meat cooked low and slow is the way to go! Our future experiments include smoked pork ribs and smoked salmon. We look forward to continuing this new adventure!

Question: What else should we try on our new smoker?

May 18, 2013 at 12:00 pm 1 comment

Spring Cleaning Granola

Please excuse my splotchy spoon...

Please excuse my splotchy spoon…

Man oh man is this stuff tasty. I have had a craving for some good, healthy granola ever since returning from Florida. I have had some early mornings lately and my breakfasts have been, well… sad. An afterthought. Something to hold me over until lunch. After a day off, I decided that I couldn’t continue to neglect my favorite meal for much longer! Since oatmeal takes too much time in the morning and hot breakfasts on increasingly warmer mornings are sounding less appealing, the thoughts of granola came to my mind.


Now I may have mentioned this in other posts before, but homemade granola simply cannot be beaten… once you get it right. It is harder than you’d think to get the wet to dry ratio to give you just enough crumbles and clusters! Too far one way and the granola is dry and lifeless, and too far the other and the result is tacky and hard to store! Once that problem is solved, the combinations of granola goodness become endless. Even better, you can control the amount of sugar you add so you can avoid the cloying sweetness that plaques many store-bought varieties. This batch of granola essentially served as a spring cleaning for my pantry, using up bits of bulk good items bought for other purposes and since forgotten. I will post how I made it below, and then write out what I think is a pretty good bare-bones builder for a make-your own granola!

Question: What are your favorite fruit & nut combos for granola?


Spring Cleaning Granola

based on a friend’s favorite granola recipe

(note: makes a very large batch, recipe can easily be halved)

dry ingredients:

6 cups oats

1/2 cup lightly salted sunflower seeds (if using unsalted, add a pinch of salt to the wet ingredients)

1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds

3 cups chopped peanuts

wet ingredients:

3/4 cup maple syrup, 1/2 cup mixed in and 1/4 cup reserved

1/2 cup canola oil

1 tbsp cinnamon

3/4 tsp nutmeg

3/4 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup brown sugar


1 cup dried fruit (I used a combo of dried blueberries and chocolate-covered pomegranate seeds)

Mix together all wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls. Next, mix the wet into the dry ingredients until small clumps form. Spread evenly on a lightly-greased rimmed baking sheet. Place in a 325F oven and bake for 15 minutes. Stir the granola, and bake for 15 more minutes. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of maple syrup over the granola, stir, and bake for 5 final minutes. Remove and allow to cool on the tray. Once room temperature, stir in desired dried fruit.

Bare-Bones Granola Builder

dry ingredients: 

3 cups oats

1/2 cup seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, chia)

1 1/2 cups chopped nuts (peanuts, almonds, pecans, macadamia, walnut)

wet ingredients:

1/4 cup oil (canola, vegetable, olive, grapeseed, coconut)

1/4 cup + 2 tbsp liquid sweetener (maple syrup, honey, agave nectar)

2 tbsp brown sugar

Spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cloves)

Pinch of salt (if nuts not salted)

1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or almond or anise, if you want to try something fancy!)


1/2-1 cup dried fruit (cranberries, blueberries, raisins, cherries)

Mix together all wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls. Next, mix the wet into the dry ingredients until small clumps form. Spread evenly on a lightly-greased rimmed baking sheet. Place in a 325F oven and bake for 15 minutes. Stir the granola, and bake for 15 more minutes. Add the remaining maple syrup over the granola, stir, and bake for 5 final minutes. Remove and allow to cool on the tray. Once room temperature, stir in desired dried fruit.

April 10, 2013 at 10:42 am Leave a comment

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