Avocado Toast - Simplistic Decadence

If you know me, you know that I'm not always the first kid on the block to try something new. The smarter-than-me phones? Harry forced my iPhone 4s on me Labor Day, 2013. I only agreed because I drowned my flip phone the week before while fishing on Georgian Bay near Parry Sound, Ontario. I'm pretty happy with my phone now that I have it, but notice I have a 4s. Yes, there was a big release of the iPhone 6 a couple of months ago. So, still behind the times.

Given this, it should be no surprise that I had never heard of avocado toast until sometime after Labor Day, 2014. I came across an article via Yahoo Food explaining variations of avocado toast. I wondered "how can you modify something no one has ever heard of?" Apparently, I was quite wrong.

I could not name one thing wrong with the concept of avocado toast. I love avocado and don't eat it nearly often enough. Toast made from hearty, crusty bread? Sign me up. A drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper - maybe throw in a swipe of a garlic clove on the toast or a small squeeze of lemon or lime juice and I can't find anything to complain about.

I became slightly obsessed. For several weeks, avocado toast was my Monday lunch. A smoothie instead of cereal or oatmeal for breakfast to allow myself the toast for lunch. I learned that if I was at the store on Saturday, I could buy an under-ripe avocado and it would be perfectly ripe by Monday's lunchtime.

Then, the unthinkable happened. For a few weeks, every avocado was too ripe on Saturday. Maybe because it was the height of college football season and everyone wanted guacamole for the game. Or, was it because everyone else in central Ohio had read the article on Yahoo and decided they wanted to jump on the bandwagon?

I fell into a funk. I would pack my lunch with a sigh and resigned myself to waiting for avocado toast until Cinco de Mayo.

Then, last Saturday, a miracle of sorts occurred. We were getting our groceries on Saturday morning and there it was. The perfectly under-ripened small avocado. I saw the green showing through the flesh and I knew.

It was meant to be.

We already had crusty bread on our shopping list because we were having steak on the grill Sunday and I wanted bruschetta. We can't possibly eat a whole loaf of crusty bread during one meal, so I needed to plan a few other things to use it for.

Avocado toast. Only I didn't eat it for lunch on Monday.

Toast IS a breakfast food, after all.

Cranberry-Lime Infused Vodka - Great Last Minute Gift!

Last year, while perusing Pinterest looking for ideas for the kids' gift baskets, I came across a beautiful pin. Cranberry Lime Vodka. Well, let's see what's wrong with this idea. Cranberries? Nothing wrong. Vodka? Nothing wrong. Hey, lime works with it. I got so excited after we made our bottles that I took it into work to show the others. One of gals even made several for her family. If you do a web search, you will find a lot of blog posts about it, but I think the pin I originally saw was from Fancy Napkin

Our labels included a simple martini recipe. I also admonished my kids for their lack of proper bar implements.

Making the Cranberry-Lime Infused Vodka was simple. I had a more difficult time finding a template for all of the gift tags we needed to print. I think we made 3 large bottles and 3 small bottles - all of which I found at The Container Store. Last year, we made the infused vodka the weekend before Thanksgiving because we were traveling to my daughter's home in South Carolina 2 weeks before Christmas to celebrate Thankschrismahannukwanzaakah. It had been a few years since we were all together, so I was determined to make it special.

There really is no recipe to follow. Fresh cranberries, lime peel, a wee bit of granulated sugar, and enough vodka to fill the bottle. Some of the blog recipes I've seen suggest any old vodka. While I wouldn't go Grey Goose on this, you really don't want the low-proof grocery store vodka. We used 80 proof Smirnoff and the end flavor was very smooth.

The most important suggestion I followed from Fancy Napkin was to pierce each cranberry with the tip of a knife. Wash your fresh cranberries, then allow to dry (you don't want to dilute the vodka). We had rinsed our bottles the night before, so they were completely dry, as well. I used a very sharp knife to peel the limes, being careful to limit the amount of white pith. The white is bitter and only gets worse over time.

Harry and I pierced each cranberry as we put it into the bottles, and it really didn't take an awful amount of time. We layered the lime peel at about 1/3 full, then at the 3/4 mark. Once you've completely filled your bottles with the cranberries, add just 1-2 teaspoons of granulated sugar (depending upon the size of your bottle). The sugar will balance the bitterness of the cranberries, but not make it sweet. Fill the bottle completely with vodka. The top cranberries will attempt to float, so just push them back down. Put the cap on and let it steep for at least 2 weeks. If you're reading this on December 23, get ye to the store for your supplies, then tell your recipient to wait a couple of weeks before drinking. We did shake it every few days to keep the flavor mixing around.

 I found the template for the labels free online at the MS store, and printed them on some light card stock I found at Pat Catan's. I cut them apart with some scalloped scissors intended for scrapbooking. We tied them on with some rough twine.

We were wrapping and packing the baskets in our hotel room the morning of our gift exchange. I had forgotten to take a picture in better light. But, I think you can see below how pretty of a red the vodka became from the cranberries.

Harry and I held onto our bottle of Cranberry-Lime Infused Vodka for a few months and it was delicious. Yes, we kept the cranberries in and there was no bitterness. In fact, I drank it with just tonic. I plan to make a few bottles this year, but I will probably go with a different bottle. I didn't have the patience to pull all the cranberries out with tweezers, so I ended up throwing away the bottle. A bottle with a more open neck would have been a better choice.



Thanksgiving Wines - Tips and Suggestions

Thanksgiving wines have a lot of competition at the table. There are so many flavors in a relatively small area, it is impossible to find just one Thanksgiving wine that will complement all of the dishes. When buying Thanksgiving wine, it is important to find a balanced wine that will not be overwhelmed by all of the seasonings and rich food so often prepared. Avoid a super-dry wine, as the taste of these will be lost. Also, a very heavy-bodied wine will overwhelm some of the lighter dishes available. In this list of 10 Thanksgiving Wines, I have included some general styles of wine as well as specific wines that we enjoy. The specific wineries I've linked to are places we've visited in our travels or wines we have purchased retail. We've received no compensation for this post.

10 Thanksgiving Wines:

1. Pinot Noir - This can be either a red or white wine, and is sometimes included in champagne. Most pinot noir wines I've tasted have been semi-dry and medium bodied, successfully converting this former white zinfandel-only drinker.

2. Riesling - It is possible to find German Rieslings in the United States priced under $20 per bottle. Avoid dry or sweet Rieslings. A lighter Riesling with a medium body will satisfy those who can't drink red wines.

3. Rose - The universal wine. Please avoid boxed varieties.

4. 7 Deadly Zins - This zinfandel blended by Michael-David, while a little heavier than many, and has a balance of several flavors. We've been able to locate this wine during our travels around the United States.

5. Stone Hill Winery's Chambourcin - From Herrmann, MO hails this medium-bodied wine that complements heavy and lighter dishes. Stone Hill Winery will ship to several states.

6. Breitenbach Wine's Roadhouse Red - We enjoy this wine from the heart of Ohio's Amish Country with many types of food. Don't let the semi-sweet designation fool you. This is not a syrupy wine and will appeal to either merlot or semi-sweet wine drinkers. Breitenbach Wine's will ship, with a 21 year old signature required.

7. Ridge Winery's Switzerland County Red - From the birthplace of commercial wine-making in the United States comes another wine that will please semi-dry or semi-sweet drinkers. The Ridge can ship only in Indiana, but is conveniently located between Cincinnati and Louisville, just 15 minutes from I-71.

Completely worth the stop at The Ridge Winery Tasting Room, right on the banks of the Ohio River. They've expanded the tasting room and offer a lot of special events.
8. Lanthier Winery's Cranberry Grande - Cranberries. Thanksgiving. Perfection. Unfortunately, Lanthier Winery does not have an online store. Plan a road trip from Cincinnati or Louisville and follow the Indiana Wine Trail to Madison, IN. As a bonus - they offer a free bottle for every five you buy.

We love to visit Lanthier during the holiday season because they always have dozens of beautifully decorated trees.
9. Breitenbach Wine's Cranberry Wine - Sweet and tart, this wine is always available in mid-November.

10. Ice Wine - A very sweet and decadent dessert wine, ice wines are made from grapes that have been permitted to freeze on the vine. The majority of ice wines are produced in Canada, but it is possible to find good, affordable ice wines from the Great Lakes region.

Don't be afraid of wine. In the words of William Shakespeare "Good wine is a good familiar creature if it be well used."

Fast, Easy Homemade Marinades and Rubs

Our first night vacation meal every time we rent a cottage or condo - Marinated Steak, baked potato and 3G Salad!

In our kitchen, meat is the centerpiece of meals. While I have a few basic techniques that haven't changed much in 25 years - frying chicken is one example - we do like to play with flavors. Creating rubs and marinades takes almost no time at all, yet can completely change the taste and texture of old favorites and standbys.  With a few simple standard ingredients kept on hand, anyone can create a marinade or rub to rival expensive packaged convenience items. All of these recipes can be increased for larger quantities.

Steak Marinade - serves two

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
4-5 cloves garlic, finely minced (adapt to your taste)
several grinds black pepper
pinch sea salt
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 - 10 oz. ribeye steaks

Combine all ingredients, then pour the marinade over the steaks that have been placed in a zip-top bag. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, but it will be fine for several hours or overnight. Remove the steaks from the refrigerator at least 20 minutes before grilling in order to let the meat lose its chill. 

Rub for Pork

2 tablespoons ground sage
2 tablespoons granulated garlic
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt

Combine all ingredients. This will rub all sides of 3 pound pork loin roast or both sides of 8 thick-cut boneless pork chops. The rub can be stored in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Dry Rub for Smoking Pork Shoulder or Ribs

You can make the rub in larger quantities and store in an airtight container.

4 tablespoons paprika
4 tablespoons ground sage
3 tablespoons sea salt
2 tablespoons granulated garlic
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1/4-1/2 cup prepared yellow mustard
an 8-9 pound pork shoulder/Boston Butt

Combine paprika, sage, sea salt, garlic and pepper in small bowl. Rinse pork with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Place on baking sheet. Rub yellow mustard over all sides of pork. Then, completely coat mustard with dry mixture. Place in refrigerator to allow crust to "set", until smoker is ready. Follow manufacturer's instruction for indirect cooking.


Kabob Marinade - serves 2

¼ cup canola oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
pinch sea salt
several grinds black pepper
3-4 cloves garlic, finely minced

Whisk all ingredients together until well combined. Brush over 4 10-inch vegetable or meat and vegetable kabobs placed in shallow baking pan. Place in refrigerator, turning occasionally until ready to grill. During grilling, baste kabobs occasionally with leftover marinade.


Pesto Chicken Roulade

Chicken has found a larger presence in our diet over the last year. We both enjoy it, but sometimes it's just hard to come up with something different. A gal I work with mentioned buying some stuffed chicken breasts at the store, and one of them was a pesto and something. I mentioned it to Harry and we decided to give it a try.

Roulade is simply a fancy term for "roll-up". The chicken breasts we buy at Lanning's are HUGE and this would easily serve four people. In fact, I think I made it one night when we were kind of tired and it was the only thing we ate - and still had leftovers. I've taken the leftovers to work and heated in the microwave with no issues.

This isn't really a recipe that can be measurement specific. Count on one large breast for every two people you plan to serve.

I trimmed the extra fat from each breast, then put it inside a zip bag. It's great therapy to pound the dickens out of a piece of meat.

I use the zip bag because I'm not fond of raw chicken juice flying around the kitchen.

After the chicken, the ingredients are pretty simple. I used about a half-cup of pesto to cover both breasts, about a half-cup of parmesan-romano blend, one-third of a cup of mayo and just enough panko to coat. Use your own homemade pesto, mayo and crumbs, along with your fresh-grated cheese. We've had to make some sacrifices (read: cut some corners when we don't have hours to spend in the kitchen) since we both went back to work full time.

The pesto isn't coated too thick, nor the cheese - go with your own tastes. In the end, we found a nice balance between the chicken and the filling. I learned by error that pesto can be overwhelming if I use a too-heavy hand.

Then, roll up the chicken from the long side. Place seam side down on your work surface. I did all of this on the paper that the chicken was wrapped in.

I might have gone a little heavy with the mayo on this try. Trust me when I say the mayo does nothing more than seal the moisture in and keep the crumbs attached. After this was cooked, we didn't taste the mayonnaise. The chicken, however, was SO juicy.

Sprinkle on a coating of panko (I've also used regular dried bread crumbs with success) and place the breasts in a pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour, or until your thermometer reads 160 degrees.

The crust browns nicely at 350. I wouldn't recommend going much higher - the crust might brown too quickly and the chicken get dry before the inside is cooked through.

Harry sliced the Pesto Chicken Roulade and it came out rather nicely for our first attempt at something like this. The bruschetta was yummy too!

As I said above, this is more for an idea of what else to do with chicken. Pound your breasts flat, smear them with ingredients you enjoy, roll it up and bake it.



Finding inspiration...

It's easy to make excuses. I can say it's because I'm working full-time. I can say it's because our hours are so jacked up that we only have a few hours each evening for Debbie and Harry time. But I know in my heart those are just excuses. I have plenty of computer time every single day. I've been up for a little over two hours. I've just kind of fallen into a (bad) habit of just surfing each morning until its time to go to work. On the weekends, we'll sit beside each other and surf, pointing out cool things we find.

And then this happened:

I have been wanting to do a weekend runaway to Cleveland (yes, Cleveland, Ohio) for ages. I finally pouted long enough that Harry agreed. On the agenda: The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, lunch at Bahama Breeze (don't judge me), a winery or two, the casino and B Spot, and Nirvana.

So we planned a weekend in October, found a hotel within walking distance of the rail station and headed north. Friday night, we took the train to the Horseshoe Casino and had burgers and fries at B Spot. Google it. It hurts my heart that we were not impressed. I'll still try a stand-alone B Spot and give it one more shot.

Saturday morning was the day I was waiting for: Cleveland's West Side Market! Our primary mission was all about the sausage. But, which stand to choose? We made a circuit of the entire market looking at the options. Our first stop garnered butter, cheese, gnocchi, and pierogi. We picked the shop we would buy our walleye. And then, and then...we bought NINE different types of sausages. Smoked, double-smoked, hot, mild, fresh.

We visited Great Lakes Brewing Company, Bier Markt and Market Garden Brewery. I posted pictures to Facebook via my smarter-than-me-phone of our travels and finds.

It was fun. I wanted to do more.

We did this:

And we did this:

Then we did this:

Which was part of this:

And I even had a burst of creativity with the labels:

A few other things happened that kept reminding us of what we used to love to do: play in the kitchen and create food. In the real world we live in right now, it's impossible to jump back into the farmers market thing. It just won't support us anymore. But, over the last couple of months we've had many discussions about how to take it to a level that we can sustain while still working full time.

I'll go into more detail in the coming weeks. I'll also do full posts explaining the pictures. Debbie & Harry's Kitchen needs a makeover and some love for the old posts. It feels very good to be writing this. Oh, how I've missed it all.


Heritage...A to Z through our kitchen

Courtesy mmagallan at
In most everyone's kitchen, there are certain intangible objects that influence the way we cook. In our kitchen, heritage plays as much a part of our meal planning as a love of great food or a desire to experiment.

Harry's family is a blend of Danish and hills of eastern Kentucky. On my side of the fence, I have the roots of eastern Tennessee and the Canadian Maritimes. During our childhood years, we've found a constant. We both come from homes where both parents worked. For the most part, weeknight dinner was usually a meat, potatoes and some sort of vegetable. When Harry and I are short on time for cooking, we usually fall back to those heritage meals.

In my house, corned beef wasn't just for St. Patrick's Day. Mom loved a New England boiled dinner and we probably had it a few times a year. The smell of the slow cooking of the corned beef brisket would fill the house. Then, the aroma got turned up a few notches as Mom added cabbage and rutabaga along with carrots and potatoes. In all these years, 2012 will go down as the year that I finally believe I got my boiled dinner to turn out just like Mom's.

There weren't a lot of dinners Harry would like to repeat from his mother. He told me if he judged pizza by the first one she ever made - which was the first time he ever ate pizza - he never would have eaten it again! But, Harry loved his mother's meatloaf. Through most of my years, while I loved Mom's meatloaf, I was just never able to replicate it on my own. I'm sure the reason is that she has a recipe card somewhere that she still follows to the letter today.

Mom blended her fishing-village family's food heritage with that of Dad's family. Slow-fried southern style chicken with milk gravy. In the summer, I always looked forward to fried green tomatoes (just flour, salt & pepper - none of that batter crap!) and fried okra (these were fried in corn meal, salt and pepper - again no batter!). In the summer, we put up food for winter - strawberry freezer jam, green beans, tomato juice, freezer corn, Lady Ashburn pickle relish.

Through our years, our tastes have changed. Our travels have led us to enjoy foods from around the country and around the world. But, our family heritage still finds its way into our kitchen.
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