BrokeAss Gourmet

BrokeAss Gourmet

If you know me well, you know that for most of my childhood, through my college years, and well into my mid-twenties, I was a vegetarian (a move spurred by a particularly intense day at my hometown's local petting zoo). I reconnected with meat (an awkward phrase, I acknowledge, but it makes sense here), in my late twenties, when I began to get serious about food writing, and wanted to be open to trying everything. Today, while i do love a rare steak, can go to town on a juicy burger, and dream of juicy pork dumplings, my day-to-day tastes still tend toward meat-free. Most nights, our meals are comprised of a few different kinds of cooked vegetables, a hearty salad, and a vegetarian protein sources, like beans, tofu, tempeh or eggs.

This sensibility is not only reflected in my home cooking--it also follows me to fancy restaurants (I'll almost always choose the handmade vegetarian pasta over the steak), hotel buffets (I'll fill my plate with composed salads and grilled vegetables, which are usually pretty healthy, and, most importantly, hard to screw up), and, yes, barbecues, even those where meat is king. 

I cannot tell you how many barbecues I've been to where, even as a meat eater, I have been annoyed on behalf of my vegetarian (or vegan or kosher) friends, about the lack of really good options for those eschewing meat. Potato salad and some chips does not a meal make. Lettuce and tomato with mustard in a bun is not a proper sandwich. Moreover, it is so, so easy to do better than this. 

Here's how i like to barbecue. And yes, sure, you can absolutely add meat to this menu if you really want to. But you definitely won't need it. 

1. Start with 2 or 3 really good composed salads. And go a little unusual. Basic potato salad is always good, but why not try a flavorful roasted sweet potato salad? It's lighter, more complex, and much more interesting.

Tear up some stale bread and toss with juicy tomatoes and salty cheese for a hearty panzanella, or pick out the ripest avocados you can find and make guacamole salad, which combines all the ingredients of really good guac. Serve it with tortilla chips. 

 

2. This is a barbecue, so you're going to need to fire up that grill! Sure, you can break out the usual store-bought veggie burgers, or, better yet, make your own!

 

Generally though, I think it's more interesting to use the grill for less-expected items, like pizzas and flatbreads. Cook the stretched dough on the grill on one side until crisp, then flip, add your toppings, and cover until the cheese is melted and the bottom is crisp. 

3. While it's always nice to have wine, beer, and non-alcoholic beverages available, I like to make a signature cocktail. Margaritas, spiked punch, and sangria are all great, but my current favorite is this refreshing lemon-watermelon cooler, featuring fresh watermelon, mint, and Mike's Hard Lemonade.

Just combine 1 part Mike's Hard Lemonade with 2 parts cubed seedless watermelon, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and ice in a blender and pour into glasses, garnished with a watermelon wedge if you want to get all fancy. Instant refreshment. 

4. And finally, grill your dessert! You already have it fired up, why not use it for dessert? There's nothing better than this uber-easy, quick and impressive grilled strawberry shortcake. Start with storebought cake, assembe the skewers head of time, make fresh whipped cream before your guests arrive and keep it chilled in the fridge. Then when it's dessert time, just toss your cake and strawberry skewers on the grill, and serve with the whipped cream and some fresh mint. 

How do you do backyard barbecues? Let me know in the comments! 


Disclosure: I'm a Mike’s VIP sponsored blog partner, but all opinions are my own. 

I was compensated by Mike's Hard Lemonade for this post, but the opinions and recipe are my own. Please consume alcohol safely and legally.

Disclosure: I'm a Mike’s VIP sponsored blog partner, but all opinions are my own. Please see below for additional disclosure.*

Today I'm teaming up with Mike's Hard Lemonade** to bring you a summer grilling pairing I can't seem to get out of my mind:  smoky, sweet grilled corn with jalapeño butter and just a touch of salty, crumbly cheese (I used cotija, but feta or even Parmesan would work just fine)

and refreshing hard lemonade.

(photo via lcbo.com)

The spicy, juicy corn, coated in spicy, salty butter is a perfect side dish to a grilled spread (though, honestly, I've had it with a giant salad for dinner on more than one occasion), and the cold, bright lemonade serves as the ultimate complement. I topped the corn with a shower of fresh cilantro (as I do just about everything), but if you are averse, you could definitely use parsley or even thinly snipped chives. 

Mike's Hard Lemonade is one of the sponsors of the Boot Campaign, which supports men and women who serve in the United States Military. If anyone deserves a cold, refreshing lemonade, it's these brave people, and therefore, I dedicate this pairing to each and every one of them.

For more information about Mike's partnership with the Boot Campaign, check out this video

 

 *I was compensated by Mike's Hard Lemonade for this post, but the opinions and recipe are my own. 

**Please consume alcohol safely and legally.

Ingredients

  • 4 ears corn, shucked, cleaned and halved $2
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter $1 for a stick
  • 1/2 jalapeño, diced finely $0.50
  • pinch salt Pantry
  • few sprigs cilantro, chopped $1 for a bunch
  • juice and zest of 1/2 lime $0.50
  • 2 tbsp crumbled cotija, feta, or grated Parmesan cheese $3 for 4 oz.

Directions

  1. Heat a grill or grill pan over high heat. Grill corn pieces for 2 minutes on each side, or until light charring develops.
  2. While corn grills, melt butter in a small sauce pan. Add jalapeño, salt, lime, cilantro, lime juice and zest and remove from heat.
  3. Drizzle butter mixture over grilled corn pieces. Garnish with cotija or feta.

"How on earth did you finagle hanging out with Rick Bayless?!" my mother texted me last Thursday evening, after seeing a slew of photos in my Instagram feed of the world-famous chef out and about with a group of Bay Area food bloggers and myself. 

"I'm not really sure!!" I texted back, giddy. In truth, I was invited by Negra Modelo to join a blogger tour of the Mission District in San Francisco with Bayless, culminating in a party/cooking demo wherein he would talk about Negra Modelo and working with Latin American ingredients, but in a looser sense, I really wasn't sure how it all happened. How did I get so lucky as to get to do this kind of thing---for a living, no less? 

(I should probably also say here that I am a total dork when it comes to meeting celebrity chefs. Introduce me to a famous actor and I am totally cool. But put me in aroom with a Michael Chiarello or Alex Guarnaschelli and I will flush like a tween meeting One Direction for the first time. So needless to say, meeting Bayless in person made me a little bit nervous, and a whole lot excited. 

Fortunately, Bayless could not have been more down to earth, which put me immediately at ease. The tour also could not have been more delicious. 

We started at a fantastic Mexicatessan, where we sampled fresh huaraches, which are thick, often stuffed, corn tortillas, similar to pupusas

We ate them with Mexican crema and plenty of fresh cabbage, and, of course, cold Negra Modelo. So delicious. 

Next, we headed to an incredible Mexican butcher, where we learned about the local history of "flap meat", also known as carne asada. 

And what's a tour without dessert? Obviously, we had to make a stop at Reyna Bakery, a long-standing family-owned Mexican bakery, where we tasted several different Mexican pastries. These, which were filled with sweet berry preserves, were outrageous.

 

Our next stop was a Mexican restaurant in the SoMa neighborhood of San Francisco, and just as we begun wondering how we were going to get there, a trolley showed up.

That's right. A trolley. (I know it looks like a cable car, but I assure you, there were no cables in sight.)

As you can see here, Bayless is definitely participating in Movember. (Also pictured here, sitting next to him, is his super-cool culinary assistant, Katy.)

Then, we were off to the party portion of the evening (as if the tour hadn't been fun enough!). There, I was greeted by two awesome things:

My cute boyfriend. 

 And a cold Negra Modelo. 

The night was incredibly fun. We learned about several Mexican ingredients, including avocados, chiles, onions (as it turns out, there is a difference between white and yellow onions--use white ones when you want raw onions for salsa or guacamole, and rinse them first!), and, yes, beer. 

I've long been a fan of Negra Modelo (which I can honestly say goes with just about anything) and the opportunity to drink it while eating delicious food AND hanging out with the great Rick Bayless was just too wonderful to pass up.

As we nibbled tacos and sipped our Negra Modelos, I looked over at two of my dearest food blogging friends, Amy and Sean, raised my glass, and declared, "We have a good life." 

Also wonderful, was the awesome group of food bloggers I got to spend the day with. Some of whom I knew, and many of whom I got to meet for the first time. If you want to check them out, here they are:

Special thanks to Negra Modelo for making this incredible day happen (Negra Modelo on FacebookInstagram or Twitter or follow their hashtag#ThePerfectComplement), and to the great Rick Bayless for joining us and sharing such wonderful kitchen wisdom! I was compensated for this post, but all opinions are my own. 

Hidden Fig Honey Cake

  • Prep Time 10 minutes
  • Cook Time 35-40 minutes
  • Estimated Cost $9.50
  • 3 Comments

Since the figs are baked whole, they turn jammy and sweet inside, and every bite of tender cake is met with a taste of that figgy goodness. 

The first time I had Rosh Hashanah honey cake (and the next several therafter), I was not impressed. So often, it had a dry, crumbly texture, and a cloying aftertaste. This never seemed right to me, especially for a dessert intended to symbolize the sweetness of a new year.

This year, I have decided, our Rosh Hashanah dinner is going to be the most delicious yet. I have the sauce for my Jalapeño-Honey Chicken all ready to go, and my Olive Oil Challah dough has been prepared and needs only to be braided into a sweet, round loaf, and baked to golden-brown perfection. With a meal that good, there's no way I'm finishing things off with a crappy, dry cake, tradition or not.

I made this cake crazy moist with eggs, oil and a healthy dose of unsweetened applesauce. Just to make sure that every bite is rich and sweet and flavorful, I plopped fresh figs (Black Mission ones make for a dramatic presentation) into the cake batter (I left the stems in for a little extra drama).

Finally, I topped the whole thing with chopped almonds, which toast up gorgeously in the oven as the cake bakes.

Since the figs are baked whole, they turn jammy and sweet inside, and every bite of tender cake is met with a taste of that figgy goodness. This is a perfect end to any Fall meal, and would be amazing with a scoop of vanilla ice cream alongside. That said, you could probably also get away with serving this with coffee and calling it breakfast. 

However you serve it, if you're celebrating Rosh Hashanah tonight, I hope your new year is delicious and sweet and a little bit quirky--just like this cake.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons neutral-tasting oil, such as vegetable or grapeseed Pantry
  • 3/4 cup strong brewed coffee, brought to room temperature $1.50
  • 3 eggs $1.50 for 6
  • 1 cup unsweetened apple sauce (you can make it yourself with this recipe--just leave out the orange and cardamom) $2.50 for 12 ounces 
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar Pantry
  • 3/4 cup honey Pantry
  • 2 1/4 cups flour Pantry
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder Pantry
  • 1/2 teasoon baking soda Pantry
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt Pantry
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon $1.50 for 1 ounce
  • 12 fresh whole figs (any kind--I used Black Mission figs) $4 
  • 1/3 cup chopped almonds Optional

Recipe Serves 12

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Line a 9x13 baking pan with parchment paper (trim with scissors as needed),, a little oil or use cooking spray. 
  3. Using an electric mixer or a whisk, mix together the oil, eggs, applesauce, brown sugar and honey until well-incorporated.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. 
  5. Add the flour mixture and coffee to the wet mixture in the bowl. 
  6. Mix gently, just until smooth.
  7. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and shake gently to even the top. 
  8. Arrange the figs, bottom-side-down in the pan, making sure to distribute them evenly.
  9. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick or knife inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
  10. Let cool to warm or room temperature and cut into squares, ensuring that each square has a fig in it.

Though I have been out of school for many years, I still feel the promise of things to come when, toward the end of the summer, the nights start to cool down and the leaves on trees crinkle and fade from green to orangey-brown. Kids everywhere head to office supply stores with their parents to buy new pencils, notebooks, and binders (or, more likely, iPads, iPhones, and laptops), to fill their backpacks (which, if they are anything like I was, are already personalized with white-out, silver Sharpie, and buttons stamped with contrarian statements). 

And then there's lunch.

It's been a long while since I've packed a school lunch for myself, and it will be a little while yet before I pack one for my own future little ones (sorry mom--hang in there!), but I have had a handful of nanny gigs over the years, which required me to make bag lunches, and Evan and I picnic nearly every weekend in our beloved Dolores Park. In other words, I know a few things about making food that is easy to throw together and still tastes good after sitting in a bag (most likely unrefrigerated) for at least 3 hours.

So parents, kids old enough to pack their own lunches, and anyone else who brings a lunch to work or school, take a deep breath. This is easier than you think. You've got this in the bag.

Rule #1: Consider a reusable bag/box. If you're not already doing this, you should be. Not only are reusable lunch bags and boxes better for the environment, if they are insulated, they keep your food colder (or hotter, depending on the temperature when you pack it) than a regular paper bag. Got a big kid who thinks lunch boxes are lame? Send them to school with this reusable "paper bag".

Rule #2: Leftovers, Leftovers, Leftovers! The absolute first place you should look when you have the 9 PM "Oh damn, I forgot to make my kid's lunch!" panic is whatever you ate for dinner. First of all, if your kids ate it for dinner, they probably enjoyed it, so it will likely go over well for lunch the next day. Secondly, it's a helpful way to clean out your fridge. Either pack leftovers in thermoses or other sealable tupperware containers, or repurpose them. If this works for you, consider planning ahead just a smidge, and make a little bit extra dinner so you have leftovers ready to go for the next day.

Slice leftover grilled or roasted meats and layer them into a sandwich (see below for notes on sandwich making) with vegetables, cheese, pesto, mayonnaise, etc. Or wrap them in flatbread, pita, or a large tortilla. Think of your leftovers as a handy shortcut to lunchmaking. 

 Rule 3: One Good Sandwich. Sandwiches tend to be the first thing we think of for school and work lunches, mostly because they are an all-encompassing meal in one handy package. But a little bit of thought is required if you want to make a really good one. Good, sturdy bread, firstly, is imperative. You want something that will be able to hold wet or semi-wet ingredients for a few hours without falling apart. Think thick sourdough, cut from a bakery loaf, dense whole wheat bread (which is also digested more slowly, which helps combat that after-lunch need for a nap), or a roll. Toasting sliced bread is also a great way to ensure it stays intact until lunch time. And if you are making lunch for a gluten-free eater, buy a rice-based gluten-free bread and be sure to toast it before building your sandwich. 

Keep sandwich ingredients minimal. I recommend sticking to 2 or 3 components, maximum. Think: salami, mozzarella, basil, or egg salad and tomato. 

You might also consider a make-your-own-sandwich kit for bigger kids or adults. Send a split roll, packets of mayonnaise and mustard (grab extra the next time you are at the deli) and sandwich fillings like sliced meats, tofu, tuna salad, tomatoes, and/or lettuce. Lunchers can have fun constructing their own sandwiches at school/work, and they can choose to eat it closed or open-faced.

Rule 4: Always Pack a Couple of Snacks: Depending on how hungry your luncher gets, make sure there are plenty of snacks in their bag. Sliced or cubed cheese (or packaged cheese sticks or Babybel rounds), whole or sliced fruit and vegetables (hint: if your luncher likes sliced carrots, celery, radishes, and/or jicama sticks, cut up a bunch and keep them in the fridge in an airtight container with cold water--they'll stay crisp all week and will be ready to pack or snack on whenever you need them), raw or toasted nuts, and/or crackers (go for healthier, whole-grain ones). 

Rule 5: Don't forget something sweet. A little something sweet is such a nice way to round out a meal. And no, it doesn't need to be super sugary and unhealthy. Consider a ripe piece of fruit, a small square of dark chocolate, an oatmeal cookie, or a handful of chocolate-covered almonds.

Bonus Rule: Ask for feedback! If your luncher is coming home with a half-eaten lunch, or throwing (or trading) some of their food away, find out why and adjust as needed (within reason, of course). Kids are prone to changing their tastes periodically, so don't be afraid to try things multiple times. And if your kids are old enough, consider asking them to help make their own lunches. In my experience, when kids participate in preparing food, they are approximately eight million times more likely to eat it. 

Now it's your turn! What are your lunch-packing secrets? Tell me in the comments!