52 Week Challenge – Meal #12

Proscuitto Wrapped Cranberry, Arugula, & Brie Stuffed Chicken

Being a paperwork Monday, I was already home and it was one of those long, tedious days. Just when one fire is put out here, another one pops up over there. I simply wasn’t in the mood, but dinnertime didn’t care – it comes every evening whether you want it to or not. My wife is always the one that rallies the troops and gets the meal done for us, but not tonight because tonight was a Meal Challenge night, so I was all in. FYI – I do help on other nights – honest. It’s just that during the Meal Challenge dinners – I’m super helper! 🙂

The weekend prior I had made a run to the grocery store for us and initially couldn’t find the Arugula for this upcoming meal. However, we needed something else at some point for our Sunday night dinner and since I messed that one up too with missing something from the store, I ran out again in order to get this meal complete. This time, I found the arugula!

(Unfortunately, I bought the one pound container of Arugula, while all that was needed was simply a 1/2 cup. As you can see between the before and after shots, no real difference, once the required 1/2 cup was removed. We’ll be having a lot of Arugula salad this week . . . that’s a given.)

The Line-up (Ingredients)

3 chicken breasts
3-6 pieces of prosciutto
1/2 pound brie cut into thin slices
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup arugula

Game Plan (Instructions)

1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2) Using a very sharp knife, cut a pocket in the middle of the side of each chicken breast from tip to tip. Cut just to the back of the breast, but not through the flesh. Make sure this is just a pocket, not cutting the breast in half.

3) Stuff a slice of brie, a handful of dried cranberries, and a third of the arugula into the pocket of each chicken breast. Wrap 1-2 slices of prosciutto around each chicken breast, “sealing” the prosciutto on the opposite side of the pocket.

(Step 1 with adding all the insides)
(Step 2 with wrapping it up snug & tight)

4) Add the stuffed, wrapped chicken to a large baking sheet with plenty of space in between each one. Place the baking sheet in the preheated oven and roast the chicken for 12-14 minutes.

5) Remove the chicken from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes. Serve with potatoes and salad and enjoy!

Okay . . . now a side-note. We really did not think that this was a enough time for the chicken to cook, so we went ahead and put the chicken in the oven for the full 14 minutes. We honestly felt good that the 14 minute mark should do the job. Unfortunately, we were quickly proven wrong once we cut our wrapped delights in half. Back into the oven they went for another 10 minutes! Afterwards, the bottom was dry and everything was a little crispy on the outside, but we still dug in and enjoyed what resulted. To help this dish next time, both extra cheese and cranberries would have been good changes to administer.

Final shot . . . see – even a couple cranberries spilling out would have made this a better looking meal, too.

52 Week Challenge – Meal #11

Korean Chicken Bao

We went from one of the easiest meals that we’ve done during this challenge (Ranch and Dill Pickle Pizza) to definitely the most time consuming one. But – it was so worth it! There were plenty of time gaps with this recipe. During a couple of those moments, my wife and I went outside to watch the kids as they biked and skateboarded the streets of our neighborhood. However, when back inside, the meal prep music of choice was suggested by my wife. Through Spotify, we “enjoyed” K-pop to go along with the food that we were making. I’m fine with it. I get it. I can hear the hooks. In the end though, I very much needed my Rock music.

Just like with all the recipes done here, simply click on the above title for the link of what was borrowed (adapted?). As always, I’ll lay out what we followed as well as any of the changes that were made along the way.

The Line-up (Ingredients)


  • 3 ¾ cups (450g) plain (all purpose) flour
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp (equivalent to one packet or 7g) instant dried yeast
  • 3 tbsp whole milk
  • 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp (210ml altogether) warm water
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1 tbsp olive oil


  • 4 chicken breasts sliced into bite-size chunks
  • 1 cup (240ml) buttermilk
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp white pepper
  • ¼ tsp garlic salt


  • 1 ½ cups (180g) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp garlic salt
  • ½ tsp celery salt
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp chili flakes
  • vegetable oil for deep frying – at least 1 litre/four cups


  • 2 tbsp gochuajang paste
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 4 tbsp brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic peeled and minced
  • 2 tsp minced ginger
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil

Game Plan (Instructions)

  • Start by making the bao buns.
  • Place the flour, sugar, salt and yeast in a bowl and mix together.
  • Add the milk, warm water (activates the yeast) and butter to a jug and stir together until the butter melts. Stir the liquid mixture into the flour mixture at first with a spoon, and then with your hands. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. Alternatively, you can do this in a mixer fitted with a dough hook.
(Me – hard at work)
  • Place the dough in an oiled bowl. Cover (with clingfilm or a damp tea towel and leave until doubled in size – about 90 minutes – 2 hours).
(My wife enjoys her spices from Penzeys –
that’s where the towel came from too)
  • Meanwhile, start on the Korean Chicken. Place the chicken in a bowl. Add the buttermilk, salt, pepper and garlic salt. Mix together, cover and place in the fridge to marinade for at least 1 hour.
  • After the dough has proved (been aroused), tip it out of the bowl onto a floured surface. Knead the dough again and split into 20 balls. Place a piece of baking parchment on your work surface and roll each ball into an oval on top of the parchment, using a rolling pin – approx. 6cm x 9cm.
  • Brush the ovals with the olive oil and fold each oval over, using a chopstick in the middle to fold over to leave a little space in the fold (so the oil is on the inside of the fold). Remove the chopstick and place each bun onto a small piece of baking parchment.
(Some were done better than others)
  • Place the buns on the trays – still on the the baking parchment – as this will help you to move them later. Cover each tray with clingfilm or a carrier bag (ensuring the clingfilm doesn’t touch the dough – or it will stick) and leave to prove for a further hour, until puffed up.
(So much waiting!)
  • Preheat the oven to a low heat (to keep cooked chicken warm). Heat a large pan of vegetable oil (or preheat your deep fat fryer) until hot (you can test by dropping a small cube of bread in there, if it rises immediately to the top and starts to bubble rapidly, it’s hot enough). You’ll need at least 1 litre (4 cups) of oil.
  • Mix together the crispy coating ingredients in a small bowl. Take the chicken out of the fridge. Lift a piece from the buttermilk and allow the excess to drip off. Dredge the chicken in the crispy coating mixture – ensuring it’s fully covered. Place on a tray and repeat until all of the chicken is coated.
  • Once the oil is hot enough, add in 10-12 of the chicken pieces. You can add more or less depending on the size of your pan, just be sure not to overcrowd the chicken. Cook for 3-5 minutes until golden brown and cooked in the middle. You can check this by cutting open a piece of chicken, if it’s no longer pink in the middle, it’s cooked.
  • Place on a tray in the oven to keep warm whilst you cook the rest of the chicken.
  • Meanwhile, put a large steamer pan on to boil. Working in batches, place the buns in the steamer (you can keep them on the baking parchment and steam for 10 minutes. I use a double layer steam pan – placing four buns in each layer. Once steamed, place on a warm plate.
(Didn’t have a double steamer pan, so we did this)
  • While the chicken and bao buns are cooking, make the sauce. Place the gochujang, honey, sugar, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, vegetable oil and sesame oil in a saucepan and stir together.
  • Bring to the boil, then simmer for 5 minutes until thickened.
  • Place all of the cooked chicken in a bowl and pour the sauce over the chicken. Toss together to coat. You can leave the chicken chunks whole, or slice up if you prefer.
(The wait is almost over!)
  • Carefully open the steamed bao buns and stuff with the Korean chicken. Top with slices of red onion, cucumber, fresh coriander (cilantro) and sesame seeds before serving.
(This is the pretty shot)
(Yikes – that’s me. But, man, am I enjoying it!)

This meal was definitely a winner and we were both so proud of ourselves for having done it. Basically, it was one of those meals where you can’t believe what you are enjoying in your own house AND then to top matters off – you made it! Time was an issue though. It took all afternoon. However, as long as you have good company to share . . . you should just go ahead with making this meal sometime. Enjoy!!

52 Week Challenge – Meal #10

Ranch and Dill Pickle Pizza

For this meal, we were discussing what to go with when I had a distant happy memory of pickles on pizza. Now, it certainly wasn’t an original idea or anything. Again, it was memory, since I had actually seen one of my former clients, Bill McCarty, on television explaining this delicious thought of Philly Dilly Pickle Pizza. Click here for that.

If you want to go and try it out for yourself, just go hit up the restaurant – Barra Rossa in Philadelphia, PA. Otherwise, my wife and I dug around on the web and found this recipe to play out for my meal challenge. Just like with all the recipes done, simply click on the above title for the link of what was borrowed (adapted?). As always, I’ll lay out what we followed as well as any of the changes that were made along the way.

Meal prep music was provided by Spotify with Vampire Weekend – yeah, a repeat offender. We really like them.

And, of course, there was beverage to warm things up.

(See them pickle chips peeking out from behind)

The Line-up (Ingredients)

1 (14- to 16-ounce) ball pizza dough
2/3 to 3/4 cup ranch dressing
2 small garlic cloves very thinly sliced
1 cup freshly shredded low-moisture mozzarella (about 4 ounces)
1 cup very thinly sliced dill pickles
dried dill for finishing
hot sauce for finishing (optional, but duh! – We added it!)

Game Plan (Instructions)

1) Preheat the oven to 500°F (if using a baking sheet) or as high as it will go (if using a baking stone/steel; place the stone/steel in the oven before you start preheating).

2) Stretch or roll out your dough to a 12-inch circle, then transfer it to an oiled baking sheet or a lightly floured pizza peel (if using a baking stone/steel).

3) Spread the ranch dressing evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edges. Scatter on the sliced garlic and mozzarella, then arrange the pickles on top in an even layer.

(So many pickles!)

4) Transfer the pizza to the oven and bake until the crust is golden and the cheese has browned in spots—8 to 10 minutes on the baking sheet, 6 to 8 minutes on the baking stone/steel.

(Pre hot sauce)

5) Remove the pizza from the oven, then sprinkle with some dried dill. Slice and serve. We used Frank’s RedHot – Original Hot Sauce, too!

(Post hot sauce)
(My wife took a pix with her beverage of choice)
(My turn with camera, uh phone –
my beer saying “hi” in the back there)
(Close up aka delicious shot)

We were definitely happy with the outcome of this meal. I was also fortunate enough to have a couple slices for the road the following day – it’s good cold, too! If we were to make it again, I’m not sure if there would be any real future changes to make. There could certainly be some other options: different pickles, try with pizza sauce, or even mix in some banana hot peppers. Bottom line though, pickles and pizza together are a win!

52 Week Challenge – Meal #9

Instant Pot Sausage & Spinach Soup

Just days away from the first day of Autumn and there was already a slight chill in the air – therefore, soup was the chosen dinner for the night. We went with a favorite soup from the Olive Garden – Sopa Toscana. I was excited about the sausage. Meanwhile, my wife stated aloud, “The kids are gonna hate this.” In turn, we did have “Chicken & Stars” as back-up.

For my wife, Eva Cassidy’s album – Songbird – always reminds her of Fall, so that was playing via Spotify. Once the album was done, Spotify then picks similar music to continue your “theme”. Jamie Cullum was next, which shocked us both because in the beginning of our relationship, this album was a favorite of ours and had long been forgotten. The musical play was spot on for us, but back to the dinner prep.

As I always explain with all of the challenges, simply click on the recipe title for the link of what was borrowed (adapted?). I then lay out what we followed as well as the changes that were made along the way. I have to admit, my wife was kicking it into high gear for this one. By the time I would find a teaspoon or tablespoon, my wife had already eyed up the ingredient and added it to the pot. I did help though – I promise!

The Line-up (Ingredients)

2 tbsp of olive oil
1/4 stick (2 tbsp) of salted butter
3 large shallots, diced
2 lbs of Italian Sausage (sweet, hot or mixed), casing removed
1 tbsp of crushed garlic (we minced)
1 cup of sherry wine or a dry white wine (like a Sauvignon Blanc)
5 cups of garlic or chicken broth
1 tsp of Italian seasoning
1 tsp of oregano
1 tsp of garlic powder
1 tsp of seasoned salt
1 tsp of black pepper
1.5 lbs of baby red (or white) potatoes, sliced into quarters with the skin still on – we used white potatoes and a skill shot is shown below
5-8 oz of baby spinach
5.2 oz of Boursin (any flavor and can be found in the deli/fancy cheese section of most markets and Costco) or 5 oz of a brick of cream cheese
1 cup of heavy cream or half & half
Crusty Italian or French bread, to dip in the soup

(See – I cut all of these – beautiful work, right?)

Game Plan (Instructions)

1. Add the olive oil and butter to the Instant Pot or Ninja Foodi. Hit “Sauté” and adjust so it’s on the “More” or “High” setting (hit “Start” after if using the Ninja Foodi). Once the butter’s melted, add in the shallots and sauté for 3-5 minutes until lightly browned

2. Next, add the sausage and break it down with a wooden spatula/mixing spoon until crumbled (like a ground beef) and sauté (stir & set) for another 35 minutes. Add the garlic about 1 minute after the sausage is cooking and stir it in

3. Pour in the sherry and let simmer for 3 minutes and follow with the broth, Italian seasoning, oregano, garlic powder, seasoned salt and black pepper. Stir well

4. Lastly, add in the potatoes, top with spinach and DO NOT STIR (leave the spinach right on top as it will cook down into nothing). Secure the pressure cooking lid, hit “Keep Warm/Cancel” or “Stop” and hit “Pressure Cook” or “Manual” high pressure for 10 minutes (it will take a solid 10 minutes or so to come to pressure due to the amount of volume in the pot). Quick release when done.

(over five minutes of pressure release!)

5. Stir in the Boursin (or cream cheese) until melded and then add the heavy cream or half & half

6. Ladle into bowls and serve with some crusty Italian or French bread

(I forgot about doing the “pretty shot”, but here’s before & after of my enjoyment)

After the first taste, there was too much of a fennel flavor to the soup. In order to cut that taste slightly, we added some hot sausage. Did I think of this? Absolutely not, but I witnessed the difference it made and slowly my cooking skills expanded. The soup was good. We had leftovers and my wife & I enjoyed them during lunches at work. Will we make it again – no urgency there, but we again did like it.

52 Week Challenge – Meal #8

Grilled Vegetables with Fresh Basil Pesto

Setting the mood for this meal, we went to one of our favorites on Spotify with their playlist for Vampire Weekend. One year ago, we saw this incredible band in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. We along with another fun couple (who knows – maybe they were the only fun couple of our group, but they appeared to enjoy our company) went on to have a most memorable weekend with various beer beverage pit stops from nearby small breweries. The overwhelming favorite was Other Half Brewing in Brooklyn – oh, the IPAs were magically delicious! Initially, we all thought that we would be revisiting this trip again this year – ho hum, thanks 2020.

Anyway – back to the meal prep! The veggies weren’t the only items grilled up for our dinner. We did throw on some chicken – nothing fancy there, so we didn’t highlight the bird breakdown within this Meal Challenge post. As for the actual “Grilled Vegetables with Fresh Basil Pesto” recipes, simply click on the recipe title for the links of what was borrowed (adapted?). As always, I’ll lay out what we followed as well as the changes that were made along the way.

The Line-up (Ingredients)

1 Red Onion
1 Red Pepper
1 Green Zucchini
1 Yellow Squash
Avocado Oil
Sea Salt and Black Pepper
4 ounces goat cheese
1/3 cup pesto . . . buy in the store or make your own as we did!

(Basil – from our very own deck garden!)

1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
3 Tbsp. toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 garlic clove
3 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

Game Plan (Instructions)

1) Prepare the vegetables by quartering the zucchini and red pepper lengthwise and slicing the eggplant and onion into 3/4″ rounds.
2) Brush all the vegetables with avocado oil (or cooking oil of your choice) then season with sea salt and pepper.
3) Heat up your BBQ then turn the temperature down to low.
4) Place the vegetable pieces straight onto the grill and cook for 7-8 minutes or until the vegetables have become tender and have started to char flipping the pieces about halfway through the cook time.

(I got excited and posted this on social media)

5) When the veggies have cooked, arrange them onto a serving plate then drizzle with pesto and top with crumbled goat cheese.

(Later shot showing more meat)

1) Combine basil leaves, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, garlic, and lemon juice in a bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely minced. Scrape down the sides with a spoon or small rubber spatula.
2) While the food processor is running, slowly add the olive oil in a steady small stream. Scrape down the sides as needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Use immediately or refrigerate for up to 1 week

(Final product via my wife!)
(my final shot showing off the white wine beverage)

This was a delicious summertime meal and fittingly right off of the grill. Most definitely a meal that we could revisit again. Plus, the process would have been even faster for us if we didn’t create our own pesto, but that was still fun. Nevertheless – we’ll be doing this meal in the nearby future.

52 Week Challenge – Meal #7

Instant Pot BBQ Beer Pulled Chicken Tacos along with Fresh Herb Ranch

For this Thursday meal, my wife and I had actually laid out the whole week on the prior Sunday. The plan was for this day to be a Meal Challenge. However, it was a hot Thursday in the summertime and I just had a long workday on the road throughout NJ. There were zero desires from me on moving . . . let alone helping out. However, thanks to my wife, she rallied me along. Honestly, I wanted to be a part of it, but I just needed that push and I’m so glad that I did because it was a wonderful dinner with of one of my favorite meals – tacos!  As I always explain with all of the challenges, simply click on the recipe title for the link of what was borrowed (adapted?). As always, I’ll lay out what we followed as well as the changes that were made along the way.

We actually performed this meal prep in silence and simply enjoyed one another’s company. HA! Who am I kidding – our two children were running around while providing the “music” of fun to fill the silent void in our evening. I think we did eventually turn on the local radio station to spread out the nonsensical sounds.

Beverage! Yeah – we had some and it was used in the dish as well!

(Via my 2019 stash! 2020 session came out following week!)

The Line-up (Ingredients)

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast or thighs
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons chipotle chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
kosher salt and black pepper
2 cups of your favorite BBQ sauce
1/2 cup of your favorite beer, or use chicken broth (I used Pumpkin beer)
3 cups shredded cabbage
2 cups grilled or steamed corn
1/2 cup fresh cilantro roughly, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
warmed corn or flour tortillas and shredded sharp cheddar cheese, for serving

Game Plan (Instructions)


1. In the bowl of your instant pot, combine the chicken, chili powder, garlic powder, paprika, cinnamon, 1 1/2 cups BBQ sauce, the beer, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cover and cook on high pressure/manual for 8 minutes. Once done cooking, use the natural or quick release function and release the steam.

2. Switch the instant pot to sauté and cook 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Shred with two forks. Add remaining BBQ sauce, if desired.

3. Meanwhile, make the ranch. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and creamy, adding additional buttermilk, 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed to thin the sauce. (FYI – we actually had leftover ranch from Meal Challenge #6, so we utilized that)

4. To make the slaw, add the cabbage to a bowl with a few spoonfuls of the ranch and toss to combine. Add the corn, cilantro and chives, and season with salt.

5. Stuff the cheese and chicken into the warmed tortillas. Top with slaw and add the ranch. As you’ll see in the final shot, we also topped with pickled onions that we made in Meal Challenge #6 – that meal ruled with all the “extras” that it delivered.

(I appropriately finished off the pumpkin beverage and then rolled right into an exquisite IPA from Vermont)
(Final shot – mmmmmmm!)

52 Week Challenge – Meal #6

Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Bacon, Tomatoes, Ranch and Pickled Onions along with Blueberry Bourbon Grilled Chicken (deja vu)

This Meal Challenge had a lot of moving parts along with multiple recipes that we pulled from – all found and orchestrated by my wife. I happily went along for the ride. The potatoes and onion recipes were both pulled from Jessica Merchant’s website – How Sweet Eats. I wrote about the website during Meal Challenge #4, which ended up being a recipe that we probably won’t be having again any time soon. However, I knew that we’d be revisiting Jessica’s site because she really has some great recipes and a wonderful newsletter, too! Now, the Blueberry Bourbon part for the grilled chicken was actually the leftover sauce from Meal Challenge #5, which were used on the wings. Nothing really fancy with what was done with the grilling for today’s chicken, but I will still explain below later. Like the other challenges, simply click on the recipe title for the link (for this challenge – links) of what was borrowed (adapted?). As always, I’ll lay out what we followed as well as the changes that were made along the way.

Meal prep music was provided by Spotify with Lo-Fi Beats. This is a real chill playlist that was enjoyed inside during the prep time. However, when I was outside during grilling time, I did crank out the Audioslave on vinyl.

And, of course, there was beverage, but that will be shown later.

The Line-up (Ingredients)


  • 1 red onion thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar


  • 4 medium sweet potatoes
  • pinch salt and pepper
  • 4 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ¼ cup chopped herbs, like parsley, chives and basil
  • pickled onions for topping


  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons fresh chives or 1 tablespoon dried chives
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill or 2 teaspoons dried dill weed
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley or 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika


  • Chicken Breast (boneless)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Blueberry Bourbon Sauce or whatever barbeque sauce is in the fridge

Game Plan (Instructions)

1) Place the onions in a jar or cup.

2) In a bowl, whisk together the warm water, sugar and salt until the sugar and salt dissolve. Then, whisk in the vinegar.

3) Pour over the sliced onions. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour. You can obviously make this ahead of time and once made, store it in the fridge in a sealed container or jar. They last about one week.

(This was so easy to do!)

1) Preheat the grill to medium heat.

2) Wash and dry the sweet potatoes. Place them on the grill and close the lid. Cook for 35 to 40 minutes, turning them every 10 minutes or so. Note: if you don’t want the skin to get crunchy and blackened, just wrap them in foil. We put them directly on the grill.

3) While the potatoes are on the grill, get your bacon knocked out however which way you do it. Skillet? Microwave? Oven? Just do it.

4) This is also a good time to do the ranch. Take all the ingredients and simply blend them together until pureed and combined. Store in the fridge in a sealed container. This lasts for about a week and can be used in other recipes – hint, hint!

(Use a food processor for mixing the Ranch!)

4) With about 15 minutes to go for the potatoes which were on one side of the grill, I then placed the chicken breasts (already salted and peppered) on the other side of the grill. I slopped on that Blueberry Bourbon Sauce and let them go for about 5 minutes. I then flipped them over and slathered them up again with the sauce before allowing them to grill for another 4 to 5 minutes. Always take an internal temperature of your chicken to make sure you hit around 165 F.

5) When the potatoes are done, slice in half. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper. Drizzle with freshly mixed-up ranch dressing. Top each with the chopped tomatoes, crispy bacon and a few pickled onions if you wish. Top with fresh herbs!

(The chicken was so good it deserved a solo shot)
(I did the beer / she did the wine. Ooooooo – See those pickled onions peeking at us from behind.)
(Courtesy of my wife’s iPhone – the final shot.
It was all so wonderful!)

52 Week Challenge – Meal #5

Blueberry Bourbon Chicken Wings

I love wings. In turn, I can guarantee that his won’t be the last wing recipe done during this meal challenge year. My wife knowing how much I love blueberries found this recipe for Blueberry Barbecue Sauce. Obviously, the sauce needed to be done first, so I’ll explain the sauce prep first, which will then be followed by the wing prepping.

We hit up Spotify again while for the tunes. This time I just wanted some fun, happy music, so we did the playlist: Summer 50s/60s Beat.

The Line-up (Ingredients) for the Sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large red onion, finely diced
1 shallot, minced
3 cloves garlic
3½ cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1 large apple diced
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
3 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
½ cup strong black coffee
½ cup bourbon, (or substitute apple juice – ha, we used Maker’s Mark)
1 cup ketchup
½ cup apple juice (We used a Capri-Sun)
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup maple syrup
½ cup balsamic vinegar
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chipotle powder, (more or less to taste)
1 tbsp smoked paprika
½ tsp cinnamon

(Mmmm – fresh blueberries!)

The Line-up (Ingredients) for the Wings
3 lbs of chicken wings
Salt and pepper for seasoning
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 tsp hot sauce

Game Plan (Instructions) for the Sauce

1) In a medium sized sauce pan, heat oil and cook the onion, shallot and garlic over medium low heat until softened but not browned. Always put in the onion and shallot first. Garlic can cook (and burn) within 30 seconds.

2) Add all the other ingredients, stir well and simmer over low heat for about 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has reduced, the apples have softened and the mixture begins to thicken.

(I thought this shot looked oh so good!)

3) Let the sauce cool before pureeing until smooth in a food processor.

4) Store in airtight container in the fridge if you are using it within a week or so. Otherwise, freeze it in airtight containers. Also, properly preserving it in mason jars could make it last all summer.

So, that’s it for the sauce. We then borrowed our wing recipe from here.

Game Plan (Instructions) for the Wings

1. Mix together the sauce that we just made, honey and hot sauce and then set that bowl aside.

2. Season the chicken wings with salt and pepper, then grill them on medium heat until the skins are browned and they are almost cooked.

3. At that point, turn the heat down to about medium low and begin to brush on the honey barbecue glaze, continuously turning the wings and building layers of sticky sweet sauce. I coated them at least 3 times with the sauce while they were on the grill.
Serve immediately off the grill. Well . . . let ’em cool down slightly.

(I posted this shot on social media –
I was so excited for the end result.)

(end result – we did a loaded up baked potato, too)
(I also took mini video of that good looking shot)

This was by far my most favorite meal that we have made so far during this meal challenge and definitely one of the meals that I was most proud of. I was just so happy to be a part of it, while enjoying the entire process and, yes, the final delicious outcome. This is a meal that we will be revisiting again and again! The bonus part is that we had so much of the sauce left over . . . the mealtime fun continues on into the next meal challenge!

52 Week Challenge – Meal #4

Sun Dried Tomato & Sweet Corn Skillet Lasagna

Well, it’s been awhile “off”, but I’m back at it again. Meal Challenge plans were made but then swimming pools were offered and we visited. And then, the swim time visits trickled into dinner time visits at said swimming pool locations. AND – when delicious meals are offered, my family happily accepts. However, in the meantime, the Meal Challenge plans kept getting pushed back. Nevertheless, an open night was found!

Where I found this recipe is one of my favorite places to visit for ideas – Jessica Merchant’s website – How Sweet Eats. She does have a couple cookbooks available, but I truly enjoy her weekly (you can also pick “daily” when subscribing) emails. They are always inspiring and each of them always seems to have something new that I want to be trying. Now, after all that praise, I ended up not being too fond of our outcome (sorry – no spoiler alert). However, as you’ll see, we “shortcutted” some things and that’s probably what did us in. I mean . . . we all still ate the meal and it was in no way bad, BUT – we could have done a little better job of following the recipe. Like the other challenges, simply click on the recipe title for the link of what was borrowed (adapted?). As always, I’ll lay out what we followed as well as the changes that were made along the way.

Meal prep music provided by Spotify with their playlist, Bluegrass Junction. Lauren chose this “tunage” for the evening. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything nice to say here. Again, Lauren picked it.

And the beverage of choice for both pre-game and during:

(Yeah, we did the box wine thing again)

The Line-up (Ingredients)

1 cup packed basil leaves
1 7 oz jar sun dried tomatoes in olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup freshly grated Stella Parmesan Cheese
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
⅓ to ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

We totally cheated here and went with store bought pesto:

8 ounces lasagna noodles, broken into thirds (another shortcut here and this is probably what did us in – we used oven ready noodles)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
4 ears corn, kernels cut from cob (we used fresh Jersey corn – important to say that – corn from New Jersey. That’s what I was taught.)
15 ounces ricotta cheese
1 (8 oz) ball Stella Fresh Mozzarella
1 cup freshly grated Stella Parmesan Cheese
1 handful basil leaves, for garnish

Game Plan (Instructions)

Word for word – this is what Jessica’s website says to do. I’ve got nothing to add here because ours came from a jar: Combine the basil, sun dried tomatoes (and the oil from the jar), garlic, Parmesan, pine nuts, salt and pepper in a food processor. Pulse until combined. With the processor on, stream in the olive oil, starting with ⅓ cup. You may need a bit more depending on how much olive oil is in your jar of tomatoes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil so you can cook the lasagna noodles. Cook them according to the package directions, but shave 1 minute off the cook time so the noodles are al dente. Drain the noodles once they are finished boiling. (Remember – ours were already done and “oven ready”). Heat an oven-safe 8 or 10-inch skillet over medium-low heat and add the olive oil. Add the shallots with a pinch of salt and pepper and stir. Cook until softened, about 3 minutes.

(My wife loves shallots – she says that it’s as if garlic and an onion had a baby)

Next, stir in the corn kernels. Then, stir in the pesto. Take the noodles and fold them into the corn and pesto mixture in the skillet. Add on some spoonfuls of ricotta cheese and a few slices of the Stella Fresh Mozzarella, along with grated Stella Parmesan Cheese and, of course, save some for a topping! Make sure the noodles are all coated and then top with remaining sliced mozzarella and Parmesan.

Bake the lasagna for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove it from the oven and garnish with extra fresh basil. Serve!

(You know – Garnishing it with fresh basil
might have brightened up this shot more.)

Again, short-cuts were made because impatient and “starving” children were waiting. But – my wife and I still had fun putting together the meal and completely realize that if we would ever do it over again, we’d follow the original recipe. Lesson learned – maybe. 🙂

droplet of life – The Final Gift of Beau Brummel

It was Sunday morning and my mother, sister and I were all in the kitchen for breakfast. My chair sat closest to the top of the stairway from the family room, so I could easily turn to my left and see the happenings of this room. Only five downward steps away lay Beau Brummel or while I was growing up with this black poodle of a dog, Bosie. Standing over him was my dad, who was sadly shaking his head. Bosie was not doing well and was apparently due a return trip to the vet on Monday for something my sister and I were not aware of. Nevertheless, we were simply told (warned) on the previous night (Saturday)that he was very, very sick and it definitely showed this Sunday AM.

Picture of Beau Brummel

(So, not Bosie.)

While growing up, the first routine goal of my Sunday morning regimen was to stay home from church. My dad’s a minister, therefore I’m the son of a preacher man. Cool song, but that’s about it. Otherwise, it’s church every week. No matter how many times or how loud I played the Twisted Sister’s song, “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, I still found myself pouting in a pew on Sunday morning. “Thanks be to God.”  Not really.

I was lucky though . . . actually, my dad would jump all over me for that and correct me, so let’s start that paragraph over.  I was blessed though, because the church we went to was typically over between 11am to 11:30am. However, end time all depended on the sermon durations, kool-aid drinkings, and/or baby dunkings. Normally, I got home in time for the ever important 1 o’clock kick-off time of my Beloved Birds. Yes, I was blessed to have my church wrap up their cult callings in time for my pigskin yearnings.

At this point, I really need to mention the fact that my dad was indeed a minister, but just not at this church . . . nor at any church. However, he’s legit – very legit actually. He was schooled enough in religion to earn his doctorate. But, at this time of his career, he moved beyond individual churches and was chief dog of the pastoral care department in the biggest hospital of D-ware – kind of funny saying something is the biggest in the smallest state.

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(Yeah! Hollywood knows about us!)

Nevertheless, my dad’s job at the hospital was to chat it up with the living dead. I know that I’m trying to joke about a very serious subject, but that’s the only way I know how to deal with something of this solemn-tude (made up word). Within this arena, my dad is clearly the man that I will never be. How he can hold someone’s hand while assuring them the afterlife that they both just prayed for, now awaits them at the light at the end of the hospital hallway is beyond me. And to think that while growing up, I would greet him at the door with my lame ass issues of playing baseball, dating chicks, and how annoying my little sister was.

“Hey son, I just watched seven people die today as I assured them that God awaits them at the gates of heaven. Meanwhile, you stand here griping to me about some 16 year old girl who won’t give you the time of day? How about you go Stridex your face for the umpteenth time today and quit taking long showers . . . we know what you’re doing in there.”  

Deep down, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what he yearned to say; I mean, the man grew up in Detroit. We visited there for one summer vacation. One. That’s all we needed to see. The interesting part of the trip was visiting a home where several of his friends were gathering to meet up with him. Wives, kids, the old gang. Unfortunately, they sent us kids outside to play. In this case, I had to toss around the football with a couple weak armed Michigan want-to-bes. After about 15 minutes of watching them miss and then watching their return throws go everywhere but to me, I headed inside for what I told was a “break.”  

Not thinking too much of it, I just walked in. Being summer, it was only the screen door that I needed to open. Being just a screen door, nobody heard the entry made by the kid (me). Loud conversation continued with f-bombs, bullshits, and god damns. Feeling initially shocked, a grin slowly crept across my face as I realized the owner of some of these creative dishings. It was my father – the Rev, as his friends liked to call him. Suddenly, my mom appeared in the foyer and realized what I had just witnessed. I was proud, but she hustled me outside again to the boys of Michigan – neither one became a Wolverine or Spartan.

Alright, so now you know that it wasn’t my dad that I was disrespecting at the front of the church every week. Instead, it was some other dude (or in some cases/stories,  a dudette) that was on stage . . . er, at the podium or pulpit – take your pick. I mention stage, because during the church’s annual Christmas Pageant, people would always say that I could do it because of my dad. Are they saying my dad is acting up there? Hmmmm.

(not in the pageant, but still very funny)

Actually, for one Christmas Eve show, I forgot my lines. Went blank. Congregation stared. Instantly, I hated Christmas. Bring on New Year’s. During this forgetful mishap, I knew what was supposed to happen next, but didn’t have the words to get there. In turn, I randomly waved the kid on and pointed for him to continue. Who knows – maybe the audience thought it was the other kid, but I’m guessing that my wide eyed dumb look gave myself away. I was also very open about screwing things up afterwards. FYI – anyone who really knows me; realizes that I moved past my disdain to Christmas. In fact, when people ask me about my religion, I tell them that I believe in Santa – love the guy.

That leads us to questioning God. “Wait – what about Beau Brummell?”  Okay, I’ll get back to the dog lying at the bottom of the steps, but I don’t write about these religious tangents too much, so I’m running (typing) with it. Back in the same church that I went blank on Christmas Eve on its stage, I questioned the existence of God with my Youth Group. Now, for these groups, this is probably a common topic that could creep up, especially at this teenage age. But remember who my dad was – which meant, I was a P.K. (Preacher’s Kid). Holy Shit said the church ministers . . . internally, of course.

That was quite a time. Everyone had a different story or tale or happening to prove the existence of God. Basically, what it came down to, they scared me into believing because when my parents die, they will go to heaven. “Don’t you want to go where your parents will be?”  Uh, thanks. Where do I sign up for the “I believe in God club”? I’m sorry, but the stories, tales, and happenings were lame. But that junk about going where my parents are going or not, that scared the crap out of me. I chanted out what I was supposed to, got baptised, and became a member of the church.

Funny side note – We had a lock-in that Saturday night prior to the big baptism day and church member day. A lock-in. With teenagers. They let us wander around and a small group of us began playing strip poker. I was winning when they caught us all. If they told me that God had created the breasts that I had just seen, my faith would have become so much . . . stronger. Notice how I didn’t write the easy joke out of “harder.”  All class here.

(oh – the goodies you can see with a hand like this)

Back to the dying dog. I loved that dog. My mom had him prior to my little sister, me, and my dad. That dog allowed us into its life. In turn, I only got to know when he was old. Dogs as puppies are awesome and that’s when I think they build their loyalty the most. Nobody messed with my mom when Bosie was nearby. Toy poodle with a dude. He owned the La-Z-Boy Chair in the family room. Nobody else could sit there at the end – his chair. We had to put a towel on it though because he was slower and slower reaching outside in time. In fact, back in the day, he would walk near the back door and bark in order to instruct us to let him go outside for his business. Towards the end, he would just head over in that direction. If you didn’t join him fast enough to open the door, he’d piss right there on the carpet. I loved that dog.

Beau “look alike”

Back to the original scene of this short – dog dying at the bottom of the steps, dad standing over him shaking his head and repeating, “he’s going”, my mom and sister start crying, and me – sitting there wondering if we would be going to church or not. Today was a big one – it was freaking Easter. Bet that holiday never had that adjective before. Anyway – we ended up staying home from church because of the loss of our dog, Beau “Bosie” Brummell. I loved that f’in dog.