The Swedish (Almost) Vegetarian Barbecue

13669086_1230044233696182_2945796753841096912_n

I have been very fortunate to work at international companies, and to meet warm, welcoming, wonderful and interesting people from all over the globe.  They have expanded my understanding of the world and generously shared their cultures and food, sometimes in person, and sometimes digitally.

One of my connections on Facebook is a Swedish engineer who’s been a long-standing client of my previous company, a leader in high-tech process optimization software for the energy industry.  Ben is a great guy and has sent me a Christmas card every year since the first year we met, even after I left the company.  We worked together primarily via our user group meetings – Ben was on the customer steering committee and I was the Marcom person leading the organization of the annual meeting for a few years.  Ben is also a proponent of knowledge management (my primary area of expertise) and we’ve had some great talks about it.

Love Those Food Pictures on Facebook!

Now that we no longer have work ties, our interactions are pretty much about food and family, always via Facebook.  Ben posted this picture last weekend, and of course I asked if I could share it here.  Doesn’t it just look marvelous?  And looking at that photo, don’t you think Ben could be in Southern California or right here in Southeast Texas instead of his native Gothenburg, Sweden?  That’s a Texas-worthy barbecue, for sure.  That grill is chock-full of goodness.  Although it turns out that only one of the items on the grill is actually a meat product.

13669086_1230044233696182_2945796753841096912_n
“Something for everybody” was Ben’s caption for his post in Facebook

Explaining what’s in the picture, Ben said:

“Apart from the sausage-like kebabs with ground beef and carrots, it is all vegetarian (hanging offence in Texas, I know). Sweet potato, onion, bell peppar, zucccini, cabbage and mushroom protein beef.”

Mushroom protein beef????  What in the heck is that, Ben?  Educate me, if you will.

Educate me, he did.  Ben sent me a note today:

“Here are some pictures of last weekend’s (almost) vegetarian barbecue. Lina, Oscar’s girlfriend, introduced Quorn, a fungus-based protein product.  Tastes, actually, like chicken.  It’s really good with a marinade with soy sauce and chili.”

Image-1

“We always have a lot of vegetables.  Here you cn make out sweet potato, fennel, squash and tomato.”

Image-1

I want to go to Sweden and have barbecue at Ben’s house!  Thank you, Ben, for sending these wonderful photos and letting me share them in my blog.  And thanks to the photographer, too, whose plate is empty, at least until she finishes with the photos.

Quorn is…What, Exactly?

But what’s this about “Quorn”?  I cook quite a bit, read my food magazines and watch the TV Food Network, but I’ve never heard of this meat substitute.  It sounds kind of like tofu, but apparently it is a different thing altogether.  I learned from the official Quorn web site that it is high in fiber, low in fat, and is primarily Mycoprotein, which is made through through a fermentation process applied to fusarium venenatum (in the fungi family, like truffles and morels and mushrooms).  Whew, that’s complicated!  But I’ll take Ben’s word for it and give it a try.  Something that is really appealing about it (in addition to the low-fat / high-fiber thing) is that it is much more sustainable than animal farming.

Look for some Quorn recipes soon!  I promise to be honest and let you know if I just can’t make it work.

More of My Culinary Connections

And if you’re interested in reading about a few other interesting international people I met through work and who shared their food culture and stories with me, click the posts below:

A Weeknight Dinner Party Lifts My Spirits

IMG_2300

My Dad has been in the hospital for the whole month of July.

My Dad is going to get better and get up and walk out of that hospital.

His ordeal began on July1 in the Bahamas with two disastrous days in the hospital there, followed by 2 1/2 weeks in Florida after arriving there via air ambulance (accompanied by my Aunt-Mom). Finally, he is in an ICU here in the Southeast Texas town where we all live.

People have been amazing during this time.  The taxi driver from the Bahamas has called my Aunt-Mom to check on Dad.  Friends she made during the weeks in the waiting room in the Florida ICU are calling and texting her to keep tabs on him.  Dozens and dozens of cards have been sent.  Over 100 people are keeping up with my updates about Dad on Facebook.  Phone calls, texts, private messages and prayers from family and friends bolster his spirits and ours.  We’ve heard from folks from all parts of Dad’s life, from childhood to former colleagues to members of the churches he has attended over the years.  Two of Dad’s retired colleagues from his days with Motorola even left a sign in their yard after the air ambulance brought him back to Texas.  People are wonderful.

Welcome Home Sign.jpg

Simple Pleasures are a Blessing

As I visit my Dad in the hospital each day, I realize how much I take the simple things in life for granted.  Being able to walk around outside, look at the sky, take a deep breath of the hot July air, watch a squirrel bury nuts.  Drinking a long, cool glass of water, munching on peanuts.  Washing a fresh tomato and then slicing into it, watching its bright red juices run out onto the cutting board.  Leaning deeply into a hug and squeezing the other person for just a few seconds longer.  Going to a friend’s house for a home-cooked meal.  Dad can’t do any of things right now.  But he will again.  He will.  I know he will.

The Weeknight Dinner Party

Close friends who live near us decided we needed some TLC and asked us over for dinner at their house, on a Wednesday night.  I can’t remember the last time I’ve been to someone’s house for an actual sit-down dinner, much less on a weeknight!  Parties, yes, lots of them, holiday meals, yes, but a real dinner, just a dinner, with a dessert and everything – it’s been a while.  There’s work, and business travel, and chores and pets and the getting the last kid ready for college…everyone has their version of this too-busy life and entertaining is a luxury not many folks have time for.

When we arrived, the Grill-Meister and I were greeted with extra-long, extra-tight hugs, a glass of wine or champagne, and the merry assertion that the even the dogs had been bathed in preparation for our visit.  (I think it was true, too – those dogs smelled good.  Not at all like my dogs.)  There was a marvelous home-cooking aroma in the air as we entered the kitchen.

We ate family-style in the breakfast nook overlooking the back yard, and the meal was a comfort-food delight: oven-roasted pork tenderloin, potato wedges and Caesar salad, with warm yeast rolls.  So yummy!  And there was a nice California Pinot Noir, too.

IMG_2294.jpg

Our hostess downplays her cooking skills and claimed she had never before attempted a pork tenderloin, but I’m not sure I believe her, because it was cooked just right. (It is so easy to overcook a tenderloin.)  Apparently it was a team effort; she said she couldn’t make herself use the meat thermometer, so her hubby stepped in and made sure the pork was removed when got just the right temp reading.  And her potato wedges were also perfectly cooked with just the right amount of seasoning, which turned out to be a secret ingredient.  Ranch dressing mix.  Really.  I found the recipe online and have included it below.

For a couple of hours, the four of us ate and drank and laughed and talked, lingering over our dinner.

We told stories, dreamed big dreams for the future, bragged about our kids (of course!) and talked about my Dad getting better.

The meal ended with a moist and luscious lemon pound cake with a cream cheese frosting that came from a local boutique bakery.  I shouldn’t have eaten it, but I did.  And I’m not sorry.

IMG_2300

It was a wonderful, restorative, satisfying evening.  I’m looking forward to my Dad being able to enjoy a meal like this soon.

Ranch Roasted Potatoes

Click here for a link to the Original Ranch Roasted Potatoes recipe from Hidden Valley.  They were super-good.

hvr_original_ranch_roasted_potatoes_af1-1024x410
Photo from Hidden Valley recipe site

 

 

 

Lemony and Super-Quick Avocado, Tomato and Cucumber Salad

IMG_0381

 

Sometimes, you just need a quick salad, something that’s bright and fresh but still lets the main course be the star of the meal.

This happens a lot on Sandwich Wednesday, the night when the Glover Gardens Grill-Meister becomes the Panini-Maker.  I highly recommend Sandwich Wednesday for every household; it makes the mid-week dinner something to look forward to.  Read all about our Sandwich Wednesday, including the appliance and cookbooks that power it.

I was motivated to make this salad because when I arrived home on a recent Wednesday, the Grill-Meister had all of the ingredients ready for a wonderful Steak and Bacon Panini (recipe later, I promise) and I was in the mood to play a supporting role in the kitchen.  Thus, the super-quick, lemony goodness that follows.  The recipe serves 8, and I usually half it because we are a small household – and getting smaller with the youngest heading to college next month.

Ingredients

Salad

  • 1 medium cucumber, sliced (peel a few strips with a peeler to make it pretty if you like)
  • 1 medium ripe tomato, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup red onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 large ripe avocado or two small ones, roughly chopped

Dressing

  • Juice of two small lemons (about 1/4 cup)
  • 2 tbsp good quality olive oil
  • 1 tbsp chopped basil or other fresh herb of your choice (oregano, mint, parsley, cilantro), or 1 tsp. dried basil or other herb
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Cooking Instructions

Combine all of the salad ingredients in a medium bowl.  In a small bowl, combine the dressing ingredients and whisk with a fork.  Pour over the salad and stir gently, being careful not to mash the avocado.  Transfer to a serving bowl and serve immediately.


The Grill-Meister was very complimentary about this salad.  “There’s something about the rich combination of the avocado and the olive oil, balanced by the tartness of the lemon…”  And I agree with him, there’s definitely something about this combination.  It’s really important to use high-quality olive oil for any fresh salad dressing – it has a huge impact on the flavor.  I like to buy local and get my artisan olive oil for all our favorite dishes from Olivero Farms at our local farmer’s market.  

IMG_0377
The salad before the dressing is poured on; this is a half recipe for our small household
Avocado Salad
It looks beautiful in a white serving dish
IMG_0387
The perfect poolside accompaniment to the Grill-Meister’s Steak and Bacon Paninis

Blackberry Mint Iced Tea Lemonade – This Might Be on the Menu in Heaven

316

Source: Blackberry Mint Iced Tea Lemonade – Cooking with a Wallflower

I subscribe to lots of wonderful blogs written by people who are smarter than me.  They’re all different, but they have some things in common:  they either write beautifully, are super-artistic, have wonderful, creative ideas for food, or sport the kind of wisdom and spirituality that I can only aspire to.  And sometimes, I just have to share their smarts.

This is one of those times.  Doesn’t this drink look perfect for the long, hot days of summer?  How can it go wrong, with mint, tea, lemon and blackberries?  I think it might be on the menu in heaven, and it’s definitely on my list for the weekend.  I think Blackberry Mint Iced Tea Lemonade would pair beautifully with Crab Quesadillas or Turkey Cevap on a Pita.  And if you just had to have that extra kick from alcohol, Tito’s Vodka would be just the thing.  Wouldn’t it?

Click the picture; you’ll see the recipe, and understand.  Happy times getting through the heat of the summer, from one who understands in sunny, hot, muggy and yet still wonderful Southeast Texas.

Beef and Pork Burgers Stuffed with Pesto-Cheese Filling

One of the gifts I like to bestow on a loved one is to make a requested favorite dish or meal for their birthday dinner, and recently, one of my beloved nieces wanted lasagna.  I found a really good lasagna recipe on Epicurious, which had a terrific herb and cheese filling.  Of course I modified the recipe a bit, adding pesto to the filling, and also expanded the portions to ensure we could send care packages home with the birthday girl and our other guests.  There was some of the filling left over, so of course I had to develop a recipe to use it in…and thus, the Beef and Pork Burgers Stuffed with Pesto-Cheese Filling.

These burgers are sultry and rich, and need no added cheese.  To make them even more decadent, spread some of the leftover pesto-cheese filling on the buns.  You can also serve them with some of the pesto.  Yum!

Beef and Pork Burgers Stuffed with Pesto-Cheese Filling (serves 4-6, depending on your appetites)

Ingredients

Burger Mixture

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1/4 c. minced onions
  • 3 lg cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. salt, plus extra to shake on patties
  • 1 tsps ground pepper, plus extra to shake on patties
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes, plus extra to shake on patties

Filling

  • 1 cup ricotta or cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded parmesan, romano, or other hard cheese
  • 1/4 already-prepared pesto
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper

Serve with…

  • Buns of your choice
  • Sliced tomatoes
  • Red onion slices
  • Spinach or arugula
  • Leftover cheese spread and your choice of condiments (Dijon mustard is especially good with these burgers)

Cooking Instructions

Combine ground beef and pork in a medium bowl, then add the onions, garlic and spices.  Mix well with your hands.  Form the mixture into 6-8 loosely packed balls, depending on whether you want large or medium patties.

Combine the ricotta (or cream cheese) with the shredded cheese, pesto, salt and pepper, stirring well to ensure that it is completely blended.

Cover a cookie sheet with wax paper.  To fill the patties, take each one and make a deep well in it, then add a heaping tablespoon of the filling.  Carefully stretch and pull the patty to form it all the way around the filling, completely sealing it in the ball, then gently pat it into a patty shape on the cookie sheet.  After filling all of the patties, sprinkle them on each side with salt, freshly ground pepper, and a few more red pepper flakes.  Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least a half hour while you are heating up the gas or charcoal grill.

Grill 5 or more minutes on each side until the patties reach your desired level of done-ness, remembering that they include ground pork and should be at least medium.  The Grill-Meister gets a nice sear on each side and then moves the burgers out of the direct flame to let them reach medium.

Serve with your choice of buns, garnishes and condiments.

IMG_0278
A big dollop of the filling will make this burger very juicy
Burgers Ready to Grill.JPG
Carefully flatten the burgers into the traditional patty, then sprinkle with more salt, pepper and red pepper flakes
IMG_0287.JPG
The Grill-Meister carefully manages the grilling so the patties reach just the right level of done-ness
IMG_0294
The finished product is a whopping big, beautiful burger; the pesto-cheese filling is a juicy surprise as you make it to the middle of the burger

You can pre-make these patties and freeze them ahead of a road trip or beach day, letting them thaw in the cooler as you travel to your destination.  They are wonderful when grilled on charcoal and eaten beside the pool or with the sand between your toes.