Dinners With Johnny: Balsamic and Onion Pot Roast with Beer Bread

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Welcome to this week’s edition of “Dinners With Johnny”.

I’m excited to announce that, in addition to the weekly “Dinners With Johnny”, there will be a follow-up type of post called “Dinners With Johnny: The Comment Card”.  This is where Johnny will post his blatant, sarcastic, wry, dry-witted and humorous review of my cooking.  

I’m always on the look-out to try something new when I have time to really play in the kitchen.  A friend shared this amazing Balsamic and Onion Pot Roast recipe with me and I was sold at everything about it.  The one thing that I changed about this recipe: I added mushrooms.  I had a partial container of them in the fridge and they just seemed to want to play.

I have to say, I browned that ro

ast like a pro (not that I didn’t doubt my abilities one bit).

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I tripped and spilled mushrooms into my crocpot! Oh no!

Pot roast, ready to go

Next, I threw together some beer bread, because that seemed appropriate.  Someone very smart told me that it was important to have something to soak up the pot roast juices.  I can’t disagree with that piece of advice.  My sister recommended this whole wheat recipe (1/2 wheat/white) and said that my kids love it when they’re at her house.  I used Guinness Black Lager instead of something domestic (blech).  Because the Guinness comes in 14.9 ounce cans and I only needed 12 ounces, I had to do something with the rest–I poured a Smithwicks, sipped some off the top to make room, and poured the remainder of the Guinness on top.

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Of course, what is a pot roast without a side of mashed potatoes and steamed carrots?  My son would answer: “too many carrots”.  I make him eat three of them, just to say that he had some.

The recipe tells you to reduce down the broth that the roast was cooked in.  Don’t skimp on this.  Do it like your life depends on it.  I had mine at a rolling boil for over twenty minutes before it reduced down enough.  It turns into a sweet, balsamic glaze that is nearly orgasmic.

Johnny has been informed that he needs to turn in his “Comment Card” soon, so that I may update with his review.

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Dinners with Johnny: Give Me Those Baby Back Ribs

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Seven years ago, I went back to work and it was in a little, small-town Rib joint.  We had the best ribs I’d ever had in my life.  Sadly, the place burnt down (leading me to my present place of employment).  I have missed those, fall-of-the-bone ribs and have been very picky about ordering ribs in a restaurant.  

Recently, a friend picked up, and slow roasted, four racks of ribs; they blew the rib joint’s right out of the water.  I’d only ever purchased those precooked ribs and they were only ever “so-so”.   I decided that I had to try my hand at real ones.

I rubbed down two racks with brown sugar, salt, pepper, paprika and a bit of cayenne.  I then put the on a greased, foil lined sheet pan and tented the top.  I let them roast for about two hours, then pulled the foil off and basted them with bbq sauce.  They glazed over just right.

And what goes perfectly with ribs?

Homemade Dijon cheddar mac and cheese, of course.

Many napkins and contented sighs accompanied this meal.

Slow Roasting to perfection
Slow Roasting to perfection
Slather on the bbq sauce!
Slather on the bbq sauce!
The ultimate comfort food meal: Baby Back Ribs and Dijon Cheddar Mac N Cheese
The ultimate comfort food meal: Baby Back Ribs and Dijon Cheddar Mac N Cheese

Dinners with Johnny: A Weekly Series

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I’ve been really lazy in updating my actual food blog and for that I apologize.  I’m going to do my best to remedy that.

I’ve decided that I’m going to start a new category, called: Dinners with Johnny.

Johnny is my brother and lived with me for over seven years.  He moved in when my ex and I were still together and stayed with for seven years after my ex and I divorced.  We had our moments of struggle and frustrations, just like any siblings (especially adult siblings, living together) but he became a major source of companionship and support to myself and my kids.

This fall, I sold my home and we had to part as roommates–him moving just across the lake and myself, down the road.  It was important that I not lose the time with him after we moved into separate households.

With Tuesdays being my day off, we have fallen into a weekly dinner night so that we can keep that connection strong.  This gives us time to visit, watch stupid tv together and for me to feed my culinary passions.  I love the planning stage, just as much as I love the preparing.

So, that said…Welcome to “Dinners with Johnny: A Weekly Series”

Here we are, so young...so many years ago.
Here we are, so young…so many years ago.
We showed up to Christmas dinner with our family, dressed like this.
We showed up to Christmas dinner with our family, dressed like this.

 

Yeah...we've still not grown up
Yeah…we’ve still not grown up

 

Snow Days are Good Days

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Ham and Cheddar omelets, sage sausage and chili potatoes
Ham and Cheddar omelets, sage sausage and chili potatoes

I maneuvered a couple of extra days off during my kids’ school vacation and have really been enjoying this time spent with them and family from near and far.  My parents came up from Rhode Island on Saturday and my youngest brother surprised us by joining them for the trip; he surprised me even further by asking to stay with the kids and I.  I’ve been able to read some, knit some, host some, visit some and play in the kitchen.  We said goodbye to the Rhode Islanders yesterday, after Christmas Brunch at my sister and brother-in-law’s.

This morning, we awoke to snow blanketing us and the obvious thing to do on a snow day is to have a lazy, decadent breakfast, right?

I used leftover ham (from brunch) and Yancey’s Fancy X-Sharp Cheese for the omelets, sage sausage from Middlebury Foods meat box and then used leftover chili to make Chili Potatoes.

I hope you’re all having a wonderful season celebrating to your heart’s content.  I know I sure am.

 

Eat My Sawdust

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One of my bosses picked up an Amish cookbook and asked me if I had ever heard of a Sawdust Pie.  I’d lived in Pennsylvania–right in the midst of Amish Country–but I’d never heard of this before.  I decided to give the recipe a go and it turned out amazing, so much in fact that I made it again this week at work, and my boss ordered a pie for himself.

A sawdust pie is named for it’s looks, not it’s taste–thank the gods!  I had been recommending it to customers with a drizzle of hot fudge which turned out to be a huge hit.  I decided to make one for home but with a black bottom twist.  Here’s my take on the recipe:

Black Bottom Sawdust Pie

  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
  • 1 1/2 cups sweetened, flaked coconut
  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup (about 7-8) egg whites
  • 1 9-inch, deep dish pie shell (standard pie crust)
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Place chocolate chips in bottom of pie crust.
  3. Mix remaining ingredients together and pour into pie shell (mixture will be thick).
  4. Bake for 30-35 minutes until set.
  5. Serve warmed with some vanilla ice cream or a cloud of homemade whipped cream.

 

 

Of Boxes, Dinner Parties and Salmon Cakes

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Fresh Salmon Cakes with a cucumber dill sauce.
Fresh Salmon Cakes with a cucumber dill sauce.

The end of the summer was more than I bargained for.  I put my house on the market.  My creativity was certainly drained as I had to grab my kids and be out of the house, usually right about dinner time.  It was easier to deal with frozen meals then to make a mess out of the house, cook and then clean it all up.

We got an offer and accepted it (all within a month of listing it).  Everything else just came at me so fast from there on out.  Twelve years of life in that home brought with it twelve years of stuff that piled up (and things that we found from the original owners, thirty years ago) and repairs that needed to be tended to.  Mold was found in our attic roof, we had to put in a radon mitigation system, fix siding and many other various repairs.  Amazing people came to my rescue, emotionally and physically.  My kids transformed into amazing, mini-pillars of strength; I never realized how close of a family the three of us would become because of this new adventure in our lives.

I packed as much as I could, as soon as I could.  I battled depression, lost sleep and lost weight.  My entire house was packed into a 28-foot storage trailer, moved that to the new place (which I secured that within a month of having to move) and became temporarily displaced for two nights.  Gracious friends opened up their home to the kids and I.  And what rotten house guests we were!  The Girl-spawn chased our hostess out of the kitchen, telling her to sit down while we made dinner for them.  Our hostess managed to get over that, with a glass of wine in hand.

We downsized considerably and managed to further purge after moving into the new place.  It was difficult saying goodbye to the closest I’d ever been, to my dream kitchen.  I finally have my new house settled and feel more at home than I ever have.  I get to make this my own place and create new memories.

It was now time to have a proper dinner party, all planned out.  I invited five of my friends and delegated out which dishes to bring, that would compliment my main course.  Baba Ghanoush, marinated feta and a cheese and cracker plate started us all off.  Caesar salad and crusty bread accompanied the baked lemon salmon filet, cucumber dill sauce, jasmine rice and steamed broccoli.  We finished it everything off with chocolate raspberry cake and a chocolate bourbon pecan pie.  The best part?  I asked three people to bring wine and we ended up with nine, yes NINE bottles.  My friends never leave me hanging.

I’m really glad that I planned on having leftover salmon because it made the most delicious salmon cakes for dinner this evening.

And without further ado….here’s my recipe for salmon cakes that I couldn’t keep my kids from devouring.

  • 1/2 pound of cooked and cooled salmon
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Freshly ground salt and pepper
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup finely diced red onion
  • 1 cup diced yellow bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup dried parsley (or 1/4 cup, fresh)
  • 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup canola mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  1. Put 2 teaspoons each of butter and olive oil in a large skillet along with the onion, pepper, parsley, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, Old Bay seasoning and a half teaspoon each of salt and pepper.  Cook over medium-high heat until the vegetables are soft, about 15-20 minutes.  Let cool to room temperature.
  2. Flake the cooked salmon into a large bowl.  Add the cooked vegetables, breadcrumbs, mayonnaise, mustard and eggs.  Mix well.  Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
  4. Shape into 10 cakes.
  5. Heat the rest of the butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Fry five cakes at a time, 3-4 minutes on each side, until browned.  Place on a paper towel to drain and keep them warm in the oven while you finish frying the second batch.  Serve hot.

I had leftover rice, dill sauce and steamed up a bit more broccoli.

Zesty Pesto Pasta Salad

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When I was a teenager, my family decided to change their diet, dramatically.  We cut out all dairy, eggs, meat, refined sugars, white flour and regular salt.

This left my mom with a dilemma: “What DO I feed my husband and four children (three of which were teens) that they will actually eat?”

Mom started using us as her guinea pigs and she kept us from starvation.  I don’t adhere to that strict diet any longer because, let’s face it, fake Bacon is not Bacon.  Also: Turkey Bacon is not Bacon, either–just because the label says “Bacon”, it does not make it Bacon.  I do still find myself going back to some of her recipes, though, because they’re just so damn tasty.  They also bring back some amazing memories.  Zesty Pesto Pasta Salad is one of my favorite recipes from my mother’s self-published cookbook, “Honeymoon Kitchen’s Culinary Extravaganza of Vegetarian Delights”.

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I am going to a friend’s home with my Person and we’re going to hike, enjoy the lake and have dinner on the deck today.  I tweaked this recipe and used brown rice pasta to make it gluten free so that my friend could enjoy it as well.  I left out the olives simply because I don’t like them (I’ve yet to meet an olive that I actually like).  I try to add as much color and veggies into my salad because I love the taste and the crunch of fresh veggies.  Feel free to improvise and add your own veggie combinations.

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This recipe does call for a certain type of dressing and you can certainly use your own dressing if you’d like, but this is the dressing that makes this salad unique.  Because of this dressing, my friends always request this salad when there are get togethers.  The credit goes to my father for coming up with this dressing recipe, many years ago.  I use it on my salads, as a marinade, in guacamole, on baked potatoes and many other things. As well as being so versatile, it’s extremely healthy for you; no preservatives or refined sugars and you probably have most of the ingredients on hand, in your pantry.

Zesty Pesto Pasta Salad:

  • 1 Pound Rotini Pasta (I used a brown rice pasta to make this gluten free)
  • 1 Cup Sweet & Sour Dressing (recipe below)
  • 1/4 cup Pesto
  • 1/4 cup Onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup tomato, chopped
  • 1 cup black olives, sliced
  • 1 cup yellow, orange, or green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 tbsp Mrs. Dash Garlic & Herb Seasoning
  • 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • 1 cup Broccoli, chopped (optional)
  1. Cook pasta according to directions.  Rinse in cold water and drain.
  2. Mix dressing and pesto together and mix into pasta.
  3. Fold in remaining veggies.

serves six to eight

Sweet & Sour Dressing

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp Mrs. Dash Garlic & Herb seasoning.
  1. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk well.
  2. Store at room temperature for up to two weeks.  It will store longer in your fridge but keep in mind that oil will solidify a bit.
  3. Shake well before using.

Makes three cups

I made sure to “quality control test” this salad after it was made.  The verdict: Delicious!

 

Coconut and Almond Frosted Chocolate Cupcakes (Almond Joy Cupcakes)

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As a kid, I loved the milk chocolate in an Almond Joy candy bar, but would always spit out the almond.  As an adult, I learned to like the nuts, but they weren’t my favorite part of the candy bar.  I wished for the lack of almonds in a Mounds but the milk chocolate of an Almond Joy.

I decided to play around and make my own candy bar cupcake.

I used a regular, milk chocolate, boxed cake mix then went on a search to find a buttercream that was a little nicer than just adding flavoring.

Cooking Classy had the perfect recipe and I had all the ingredients.  Yes….I keep cans of coconut milk in my pantry.  I like to have it on hand for a curry dish or turning leftover rice into rice pudding.  The coconut milk kept the frosting nice and light and after adding the extract, the frosting tasted just like the filling of a candy bar.  I was pretty conservative with the shredded coconut; I didn’t want to spend the evening picking pieces of it out of my teeth.

My daughter helped me decorate half of the tops with almond flowers which added a very classy touch.  I drizzled chocolate over the other half so that I could have my dream candy bar.  And boy, did they live up to everything I was dreaming of.

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Coconut Frosting
    • 1 cup salted butter, at room temperature
    • 1/4 cup coconut milk (canned, well shaken)
    • 1 tsp coconut extract
    • 4 cups powdered sugar
For topping
  • 3/4 cup sweetned, shredded coconut, (optionally ground in a food processor for smaller pieces)
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup sliced almonds or 24 whole almonds
  • 24 milk chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips, optional

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip together butter and coconut milk on medium-low speed until combined, then increase speed to medium-high and whip until very pale and fluffy, about 6 minutes. Blend in coconut extract. With mixer set on low speed, slowly add in powdered sugar then increase speed to medium-high and blend until fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Recipe Source: Cooking Classy

Do the right thing, people.

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A friend, my daughter and I decided to eat outside for Vermont Restaurant Week. I’d been to Sweetwaters a couple other times before now and our meals were fantastic, just as I expected. The portions were generous and I was thankful to have the help enjoying it.

The pulled pork nacho appetizer was better than I expected.  The chips seemed homemade, the pork was melt in your mouth and the sauce was just the right amount of spicy and sweet. The Boyden burger was cooked to a medium rare perfection.  The only reason I didn’t finish mine was because the nachos were so filling and I needed to save room for the most amazing Maple Creme Brulee.  I’m going to have to break down and buy a torch one of these days so that I can make my own, properly.

Despite being double sat and customers seating themselves, our waiter (Chris) did a fantastic job. He was always polite even though he had 5-6 tables and was treated rudely from impatient customers.

My biggest complaint is that my friend and I watched hosts and fellow waitstaff stand off to the side without jumping in to help a server in the weeds. Only once was he helped by someone carrying food out to another of his tables. There was a misunderstanding of the food being delivered and the other server appeared rude and impolite of the situation.

I made sure to make the management aware of how pleased we were with our server and the struggle he had to endure. I just hope that the staff does a better job stepping up and helping each other out when things get busy.

Fellow patrons: Please be aware that sometimes your server gets busy and needs your patience and understanding. A kind word will go a long way (unlike the stabbing and sarcastic remarks that we overheard from neighboring tables–one was because they weren’t allowed to bring in popcorn from outside).  Also: if you’re in a rush go to McDonalds.  If you’re going to to eat at a place with outdoor seating on a sunny weekend, be patient and enjoy the company you’re with.

I’ll be back again to enjoy a meal, will definitely ask for Chris again and would definitely tip him as generously as we did this afternoon.

“Once again, you’ve outdone yourself”

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Yes, those were the words that were uttered to me after my partner took a bite full of dinner, this evening,

I will say it again, I love that I’ve been gifted with venison from a generous co-worker.  Without it, I wouldn’t be enjoying some of the cooking adventures that I have had.  Two weekends ago I found a winner with this post.  I may not have another piece of venison backstrap, but I’ll definitely try it out with a piece of beef.

I decided to open up the package labeled: “Eye of Round” and found that it was all cut into medallions.  It wasn’t what I expected to find, but I was able to work with it.

I will point out that I’m in love with honest-food’s website.  I found the most amazing stroganoff recipe and made a few, minor, changes.  I had four ingredients on my list of things to buy.  You’d think I could have remembered only four ingredients but nope, I forgot the shallots.  I ended up using onions in place.  I had to use dried dill, ground nutmeg and Old Vine Zinfandel but it was just as amazing as I had envisioned.

I’ll definitely be making this again.

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