So it’s a double post day, normally my posts are geared towards the meals I make like the one I’m sharing with you today. Hopefully you checked out my first post, “The Forgotten Black Butterfly: Me” and I hope you check this one out too.
It was time for something comforting and homey on the food front and I was feeling like meatloaf. I wanted to give it a twist so I decided to do a Lamb and Beef meat loaf. I found a great recipe via GeniusKitchen.com, “Meatloaf with Ground Lamb”. It’s a standard meatloaf recipe that uses the surprise ingredient of ground lamb. The first thing I did was make my own breadcrumbs. It’s not one of those things that I care to waste money on because I don’t cook with it frequently. So I browned 4 pieces of seasoned white bread in the oven on low heat, and then I crumbled the slices in a gallon ziploc bag.
Next I sauteed the cut up onions and mushrooms I added for more texture and allowed them to cool while I mixed the meatloaf. Using a rubber spatula I mixed the ground meats together with the remaining ingredients – eggs, salt, pepper, seasonings, herbs, ketchup and worcestershire sauce. Once mixed well I added in the bread crumbs and then spooned my meatloaf mixed into a greased bundt pan. I use vegetable oil spray to do it quickly and mess free. I baked it for right at an hour before spreading a thin layer of ketchup on top of the cooked meatloaf. It went back in the oven for another 7 minutes and whoila it was done.
While the meatloaf baked in the oven I made homemade mashed potatoes very simply. Thankfully my husband was wanting mashed potatoes with the skins on this time so that meant no peeling potatoes.
After washing them I submerged them into water ane began boiling the potatoes until they were fork tender. One the potatoes were tender I made a mixture of chicken stock, butter and milk that I microwaved and mixed together. That mixture was poured and mixed into the potatoes as they are mashed. I mix and continue to add the liquid until I have the desired constency in my mashed potatoes and then I season with salt and pepper and a few more pats of butter. These potatoes are easy to make yet delicious and fresh. Brocolli florets were steamed and seasoned with butter, salt and pepper.
I also made Oreo Pie for the first time. I found the recipe on Pinterest that called for crushed oreo cookies, whipped topping, vanilla pudding, and milk. I’m still trying to find the actual recipe I used. I will update the link when I find it. I will say, this was delicious – the Oreo cookie crust is covered with the pudding and whipped topping mixture and finally the crumbled cookies. I also cut Oreos in half and arranged them around the dish. The recipe asserted that it would be set up in a couple hours. Two hours later it wasnt set. Three hours later it was good enough to eat. The next day it was better. Unfortunately I never got a picture of a piece of it on a plate because it was devoured. I may use less milk next time and maybe an additional box of pudding, I’ll keep you posted how it goes.
Otherwise this meal was a homerun. The meatloaf was juicy and tangy. The lamb was the star of the meal and the ketchup complimented the flavors perfectly. The mashed potatoes were sumptuous and fluffy with bits of the potato skin througout the bite. I was impressed with how delicious it came out and my husband loved the new flavor profile in the meatloaf. This was another success story, so if you’re looking for a walk on the wild side, give your meatloaf some kick with a little ground lamb.
May, a month many of us look forward to for our own reasons…maybe you welcome the change in climate, the holidays we celebrate (Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, Teacher Appreciation, Memorial Day, etc.) or maybe it represents something else for you. The rainy blah of April welcomes an exciting and expectant month of May and so far this month has not disappointed one bit!
I had planned to do a Cinco de Mayo inspired spread of delicious foods instead I was whisked away to Grand National Harbor for a romantic getaway by my husband. I couldn’t have thought of a better way to spend my Saturday night and Cinco De Mayo. We had a beautiful night, a classy and swanky, Voltaggio Brothers Steak House set the ambiance and back drop for a night to remember. The food was pricey but well worth it. My husband’s steak was huge and so tender it didn’t need a knife, I had the crab cake that was mostly crab – that was baked in a metal tin to keep it together. The wait staff made the experience that much better. They made you feel like VIP for the bread you spend.
Our stay in Oxon Hill, Maryland was the best kickoff for a month that has been blossoming into one surprise after the other. We look forward to going back and rekindling our romance right where we left off. If the Grand Harbor is booked, Harborside is literally right around the corner and it was a hit at a great price. Of course it wouldn’t be a trip if we didn’t stop at Potomac Mills Shopping Mall on the way back home. I’ve got one word for you – Deals! There were so many deals, I promise you there is something for everybody in that mall. I even got the chance to make a Unicorn for my daughter at the Build -a- Bear store. That was truly one of the cutest experiences I’ve ever encountered…the care and sentiment they put into crafting your child’s keepsake is out of this world. I ended up making a purple unicorn that smells like cupcakes with a colorful tutu. By the time we had shopped, we were ready to drop, and see our babies.
The week ahead would prove to be a busy one as usual. Teacher Appreciation Week had been on my calendar for months and of course my surprise trip threw me off a little bit. Monday I woke up ill prepared for teacher appreciation and headed straight to the store once I dropped the kids off at school. I had no solid plan but I knew I wanted to send them something daily. I found white paper lunch bags, grabbed some snacks, and drinks. Each day they received a different snack or treat bag and on Friday I sent in school supplies per the schools’ request. Mind you, I have three children in elementary school, and 1 of them has 2 teachers so that was a total of 4 bags each day. The first day I let the kids draw pictures on the bags, another day I found a poem that I taped to each bag. I tried to make each teacher’s bag as individual and unique as they are. I wish I had taken pictures but it was one of those weeks that I feel lucky that it got done, even if their isn’t a picture to capture the memory. What I do have? Thoughtful messages and thank you cards from my children’s teachers and those I certainly intend to keep. Shout out to the hardworking teachers and staff at Harvie Elementary School! Special thanks to our former teachers Mrs. Bradford and Mrs Raymond. Super special thanks to our current teachers Ms. Dowell, Ms. Brown, Mrs. Brooks-Giles and Mrs. Purnell, all beautiful ladies, inside and out!
With Teacher Appreciation Week out-of-the-way, a full week of activities that now includes basketball practice for the boys at two different schools twice a week. I was happy to return to my norm and happy place in my kitchen, and who would’ve thought that I would have cooked a complete meal on a Friday night? Fridays’ are typically a fast food type of night or a DIY type of meal – meaning it’s everyone for themselves. Yes, my younger kids can make their own food as long as it’s in the microwave or fresh. My oldest son is a Sous Chef in training, so his privileges and skill in the kitchen are a little more advanced. He even has his own apron. The specialty of this Friday, the 11th was southern fried whiting, macaroni and cheese, collard greens with smoked pork neckbones and Jiffy cornbread. My Friday night dinner turned out great. The fish was crispy and flavorful from the Creole seasoning I added to the fish coating. The macaroni and cheese was creamy and gooey. The collard greens were seasoned perfectly, you could taste a hint of the apple cider vinegar and the red pepper flake. The cornbread was moist and cake like from the vanilla extract that I added to the mixture of Jiffy Mix, egg and milk.
One thing I had done was properly prepare for Mother’s Day as I had been picking up gifts and cards for the past month or so. So I was smooth sailing as Mother’s Day approached and only needed to pick up a couple of things to complete my shopping. The only other thing that was of importance to me was to make sure I paid homage to one of the best mothers I’ve ever known, my Granny. Visiting her grave is always an emotional thing for me. Even though I don’t want to cry when I get out there, I always end up sobbing by the time I’m driving off. I miss her a lot. I knew she would appreciate the yellow roses I added to her headstone. On this particular day it was only my daughter with me, she watched me closely as I cleaned up my grandmother’s plot. I removed the old flowers and brushed the dust off with my hands. I kissed the top of the headstone as if she could feel it in heaven and then I had to leave because it was too hot to be standing out in the cemetery crying, and my daughter was visibly confused by my tears.
Leaving the cemetery left us hot and sweaty, and the kids needed something to do. I don’t know what I was thinking but I decided to take them to the splash park in my area. 60 minutes was all I could stand but I’m nobodies fool, I put my bathing suit and shorts on too. There was no way I was going to sit out in that heat and sun without indulging in the cool refreshing water play.
By the next day – Mother’s Day I was worn from the busy week, when my husband asked what I wanted to do that day my response was simple, “absolutely nothing”. And nothing was what I did that day from the comfort of my bed. I caught up on much-needed beauty sleep and chillaxed catching up on missed shows like “The Last O.G.”. I gorged myself on the 30lb bag of Haribo Gummy Bears I was gifted by my family, a Wendy’s single with bacon combo and brown liquor, lol (Shout out to Loni Love – that brown liquor is the truth). As Ice Cube said, “it was a good day” and there is nothing that I would change about it. What do you get the Mom who truly has it all? Flowers galore, a new cellphone and 30lbs of Gummy Bears (I might be exaggerating a tad but I promise you we are still eating the same bag of Gummy Bears). Even though I wasn’t expecting or in need of anything, I was very delighted by my husband and children’s thoughtfulness.
Mother’s Day proved to be relaxing and rejuvenating at the same time and rightfully so, I had another jam-packed week coming up with more wonderful delights blooming each day. I woke up first thing Monday morning to be reminded that I had “Muffins with Mom” at the school with the kids. I made it to the school fashionably on time and enjoyed some time with my babies eating pastries. It was a great turnout! There were so many moms, grandmas’, and mother figures – I had to park behind the school and walk around the building. I appreciate their school taking time to recognize us Moms and the roles that we play in our homes and children’s lives.
I can’t remember how long but maybe a couple of months ago I wrote nominations for each of my children’s teacher’s for Henrico County Public Schools “Heart of Henrico” Contest that recognizes Henrico County employees who demonstrate the heart of our great county. Lo and behold one of my nominations was selected for my son King’s 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Brooks-Giles. As a result Mrs. Brooks-Giles and her entire class would be recorded one day at the school, and on a separate day I would be recorded at my home. Wow, my first filming in years. I can’t remember the last time I was actually recorded but my last notable appearance was in an Arthur Ashe documentary on HBO back in the day. Yes, I am on film being instructed how to hit the tennis ball by the late, tennis great, Arthur Ashe. So anything in between then and now was small beans. I wanted to look good for my new debut to television so I went on the search for a Loctician to hook a sister up. Thank God my search engine took me to Natural Beauty Salon & Spa where I submitted my appointment online late Monday night. Tuesday morning my appointment was confirmed, and before I knew it Mrs. Alecia had me washed, re-twisted and styled. I was ready.
These locs have been slayed!
Wednesday morning was a blur, my allergies had kicked my butt and was wreaking havoc on me. The film crew arrived on time but I needed 30 more minutes to let my allergy medicine fully kick in. I couldn’t be on camera sneezing and snotting all over the place. That would definitely not be a good look. With my house in order, the refreshments laid out, and my allergy medicine working I was ready when Mr. Gill and his associate showed back up 30 minutes later. “Always be prepared” is the girl scout motto or at least it was when I was a Brownie Scout. That lesson has stuck with me my whole life, even when I decided the last-minute to cut my grass the Tuesday before. Thank God I did. We had cleaned my house from top to bottom (okay the main floor and the basement/den floor) to prepare for the filming. You can imagine my surprise when they suggested filming outdoors to change-up their normal scenery…inside the schools. I smiled as I thought about all the tidying and straightening up that we had done in preparing of the recording. Still, the yard looked great due to the last-minute cut, and the recording went smoothly. He asked me a few questions, and had me say a couple of lines. I was officially a STAR!
Getting ready to record!
Quiet on the SET!
The next day King and his class would be recording their segment of the video and he couldn’t have been happier. Even though it had been raining cats and dogs for days their smiles that Thursday en route to school was as bright as the shining sun. King looked good. He was ready for his debut too.
We lucked out and was able to finish our week off on a high note. The kids got Little Caesar’s pizza for dinner and I treated the older folks to one of my favorite dishes…Old Charleston Style Shrimp and Grits compliments of allrecipes. This time I used bags of small shrimp and andouille sausage that I had on hand in my deep freezer. It came out spot on point. The Shrimp and Sausage gravy was comforting and sumptuous. The grits were creamy and cheesy at the same time. Together in a bowl – it was heaven on earth. Yet as good as it was, it’s all gone. My husband demolished most of it overnight. I woke up to one bowl left so needless to say that was my breakfast of champions.
A distant memory is all that remains of the Shrimp and Grits but it’s okay because I’ve moved on in my heart and kitchen. I am on the cusp of finishing yet another meal – this time – pulled pork, potato salad and collard greens. The pork is done. The greens are almost done and the minute I get up from finishing this blog post I can finish the potato salad.
In the meantime I hope you will sign on to follow my journey – there are lots of great things to look forward to and I can’t wait to share it all with you in hopes that you too are finding new ways to enjoy and live your most pleasant life each day. I’ve got a 10 part post series promoting Self-Care, Health & Wellness coming up that I can’t wait to share with you all. I’m working on a book review, and some other well thought out ideas that I hope you guys find refreshing, helpful or at the very least entertaining. Till next time!
How many tries does it take to master the wonderful world of “Smoking” food? I’m not sure yet because clearly I still haven’t mastered it. I’m a stickler for figuring things out especially when it interests me, then I’m subject to give my failed attempt another try until I have mastered whatever it is I’m working on. Then there are those things that fall to the wayside when they don’t go right. Who has time for that?
Yet I am a self-proclaimed and self-taught “Grill Master”. I’ve been doing my grilling thing for many years now. I love grilling! I love grilled food! In a lot of families the men are the “Grill Master” or King of the Grill but in my family, women have been Queens of the Grill for years, and so now I have stepped into my position. The title wasn’t given to me, I’ve worked hard to gain that much confidence behind the grill and in the kitchen. I love the fact that my husband loves my grilling ways. He is completely cool with me doing it, plus it’s going to be good…every time. Yes, I’m that good. But even though I’m very skilled at grilling everything from pizza’s to whole chickens indoors or outdoors, I have little experience smoking (I want to laugh everytime I think of smoking…I’m talking about food in case anybody else got lost, lol). I have used foil packs of wood chips in the oven or on the grill before) but I’ve never owned or used a device or machine that was made mostly or solely to smoke food.
Lucky me I shop at Wal-Mart way too much so I stumbled upon the Expert Grill Smoker for $35.00. It was a score before I even realized that I could also grill on it too, hence saving me money from buying that second charcoal grill I intended to get. I was stoked because I’ve been wanting one for a while but between you and me, I’ve been holding out with the hopes of being able to buy the super nice expensive model first. I have visions of grandeur that I’m coping with every day. So when I came back to reality it was a great idea to pick up the smoker because it was a small investment to try something that I’ve wanted to do for a while. The smoker in its box at my patio door for two days before I finally put it together while my oldest son hibernated. He was supposed to help me but of course he was fast asleep in his room when I was finally ready to start. I’m a self-starter though, I get shit done. So I managed to put the smoker together rather easily once I realized I had put it together upside down at first. Once everything was right side up, the smoker was together and ready to go.
Being the constant professional because I believe if you’re going to do something, do it right. Go hard or go home. You get where I’m going with this? I had also picked up my hickory pellets and charcoal. It was smoking time! While my box had rested on the floor I thawed a pork butt and brined it for about 15 hours. With the smoker upright and ready to smoke, I pat dry my pork butt and massaged yellow mustard all over it. Once covered in mustard I then rubbed my dry rub mixture all over the pork butt.
With the pork butt ready it was time to find a You Tube video to help me. Help is always good. I found a great video from a guy who I won’t name because maybe he’s not as good as he thinks. (LOL) The video instructed me to dump my charcoal in my smoker bottom and then saturate with lighter fluid. Once covered in fluid, allow the charcoal to rest for 15 minutes before saturating yet again with lighter fluid. After that I lit my coals with a match and watched the blaze begin. It didn’t take long for the fire to enrapture the smoker. In the meantime I soaked my wood pellets in water.
The charcoal inside the smoker.
This is where I clearly put too much wood pellets over my charcoal. You live and learn right?
The flames going strong.
Still too hot to smoke!
The video then instructs you to let the fire burn for about 15 minutes while the coals heat up and start turning white. With the flame tamed, I then set up my water bowl, filled it with a little less than a gallon of water and then arranged my racks inside the smoker. I still allowed it additional time to come to temperature with the vent open on top and the door open. I was sure that I was cooking…with charcoal that is and I was becoming more pumped to see how it would all come together. An initial read on the thermostat confirmed my smoker was too hot at 300 degrees so I closed it up for a bit to try to bring the temperature down. My temperature gauge hadn’t moved and was stuck at the first line but my coals looked hot and ready to go. I second guessed myself and went ahead and put my pork butt on the middle rack.
In the process of preparing for the smoking process I had discovered some pork rib tips in my deep freezer. I had thawed those out and seasoned those to smoke above the pork butt on the top rack. With the ribs in place I closed the smoker up and ran back inside to escape the cold frigid air. I positioned my smoker at the base of my deck so I could watch it from my kitchen window as I cooked. That placed had proved to be perfect for my last grill. I watched intently from the window as the smoke bellowed out thickly at first before it barely looked like it was any smoke coming out of the vent at all. Mind you only an hour or so had passed and it looked like my coals were quitting on the job. I couldn’t resist the urge to peak so I ran outside to check it and it was confirmed the coals had been extinguished when I accidentally went overboard covering them in the wet wood pellets. Doh! I felt like Homer Simpson as I dismantled the smoker layer by layer.
I was back at square one. With a smoker full of fresh charcoal and significantly less wet wood pellets I was ready to try my hand at the “smoking” process again. Even though it was kick ass cold I stood my ground and re-lit that fire, paced the process, step by step till I was satisfied with the whitening coals. With the smoker fully loaded again I retreated back to my kitchen window as I watched with satisfaction as the smoker puffed away. It was late at this point and I had guestimated that my pork butt would be ready around 3 am. Even though I hadn’t coined the thought of “cooking to temperature” as Michael Simon taught us today on “The Chew” I had long considered that you have to cook food according to your own taste. Times are meant to be suggested time frames not etched in stone directions that could cause you to flop your dish. There are lots of other factors that influence cooking times but I think Michael Simon hit the nail on the head when he urged people to cook to temperature over time when cooking meats. With that being said I figured I had plenty of time, my little fiasco with the flame that went away had slowed me down and set me back. Even though I wasn’t in a rush to finish I was still eager to finish it. So I laid down.
I went to sleep. Deep sleep that is. The kind of sleep that ignores your husband’s inquiries to check on the food. I vaguely remember mumbling that it would be alright before turning over and going back to sleep. When I did wake up it was 6:30am, the time I usually awake and begin procrastinating to get up to start the morning routine. I jumped right up though knowing full well that I should have checked my pork fest hours ago and was worried that it was dry and ruined. Can you imagine my horror and relief when I saw my pork butt had clearly stopped cooking hours ago and was now cold and undone. The rib tips had even fared better on the top tray but were also not done. It was time for the “texas cheat” if I’m correct. I set my trusty oven to 250 degrees and finished both in the oven. It still took the pork butt hours to get it to the 200 degree internal temperature time recommended.
I was worried though. As I waited for my pork butt to finish in the oven I was miffed and began trying to research how to make my second attempt a successful one at smoking my food to completion. I had learned a lot over the time period and had begun to worry if I might have made a boo boo when I used lighter fluid to light my charcoal at the suggestion of the original video I watched. Supposedly you could cause your food to have a really bad taste caused by the lighter fluid. It was too late to turn back so I was hoping for the best.
I was definitely content that it was finally finished that I had almost started pulling the pork before I had let the pork butt rest. And on top of that I moved so fast I didn’t take a picture of that beautiful pork butt when it was completely finished from the oven.
With a fully rested brined and smoked pork butt I was ready to pull. The bone of the pork butt slid out with ease. It was so tender I couldn’t help eating as I pulled and discarded fat or muscle. I basted the pulled pork with its own juices. When the pork was finally done I had boiled a couple of bags of white rice to go along with the bbq rib tips and pulled pork and made a simple side salad. Surprisingly it was all very delicious and there was no taste of lighter fluid at all. There was a good amount of smoke flavor in the ribs and pulled pork, plus it was all very tender and juicy. Even though my food still came out edible and tasty I am still slightly disappointed that I wasn’t able to complete it using the smoker.
After further research I found out that I should remove the legs from my smoker as the gap beneath the smoker was causing air issues that could have also helped to extinguish my heat. I think I’ve also learned less is more. I won’t go bananas with the wet wood pellets in the future. And even though I couldn’t detect the lighter fluid in my food I definitely don’t want to risk having that happen either. I purchased a chimney starter as well that would allow me to light my coals easily with paper and then transfer the heated coals to my grill or smoker. I’m ready for my next attempt. I think. And I know that even if for some reason my smoker should quit on me too soon I’ll just finish it in the oven. No sweat off my back. Dinner is still served.
As fresh as I could be off of maybe 6 hours sleep and a belly full of my delicious pulled porkand rib tips I perused over my news feed as I did many times a day trying my best to stay “woke”. Next to Twitter where I first saw the horrible image that was represented as world-famous “Brooklyn BBQ” that was supposed to be claiming notoriety one slab of boring brisket at a time. Then back to my news feed where I saw an article about the Republished story from Vice.com that was taunting people all over the world and causing a serious debate about BBQ. Personally I was disgusted, even my non-“smoking” ass could put together a BBQ plate that would put this reported world-class BBQ to shame. Sidebar – I really don’t care. I was going to make additional sides anyway but it definitely felt like a good opportunity to show off my cooking skills. My husband had suggested that I make jalapeno mac and cheese to go with it. There’s a spot here that we frequent that makes a good one sometimes. What the heck? It was definitely worth a shot. I scouted out some inspirational recipes and formulated my own with ingredients that my family would like. I even decided to add crumbled crispy bacon to take it to the next level.
There’s no way you can have BBQ, jalapeno mac and cheese, and not have any cornbread! It was just my luck that I had the perfect recipe that I was dying to make again. Y’all at this point I was ready to short cut my dinner and get a can of collard greens…but I couldn’t. It was not going to be the best compliment to the flavors that I had already worked so hard to achieve. I couldn’t turn back now. I would have to make a pot of fresh collard greens. Yep, and I couldn’t forget the cole slaw. What is pulled pork without cole slaw? Again my plate was full but I could almost taste it as I dreamed. The next five hours or so was devoted to crafting the rest of my take on a Southern BBQ plate. If it was summer I would probably have made some potato salad too. Either way it all looked and tasted so good. It was a lot of work and there is still a lot to be learned but even though my smoking attempt was a failure, my dinner was still the winner. Literally in the un-heat of adversity I was still able to garner the smoke flavor and tenderness that the low and slow cooking process is supposed to ensure.
I can’t wait for Spring. With warmer weather I’ll be practically living in my back yard till I master the Art of Smoking…food that is. So check back for my next edition of Diary of an Amateur Smoker. I’m just getting started!