Jul 21, 2009

Smoked "Turbajunkin"

This is something that I dreamed up and I've been wanting to try out for sometime now. It's a cross between a "turducken" and a "bacon explosion". (I'll explain that makeshift sling thingy a bit later) If your not a food junkie like I am, or you live in a cave and don't know what either of those are, just google them. There are recipes for both everywhere. Although the "turducken" has been around for awhile, the "bacon explosion" apparently, is the newest, latest, and greatest thing for bbq'rs and foodies on the net.

Inspired by those two fabulous creations, plus the fact I was facing "turkey" as the primary ingredient for June's bakespace dinner challenge I knew I wanted to do something on the grill or in the smoker, afterall, it is summertime. But I wanted to do something different other than our (hubby and I) usual basic smoked turkey breast. Afterall, we've been there, done that, several times in fact. Nope, I wanted an all-in-one-on-a-bun turkey sandwich type thingy.

Hence, the "turbajunkin" was born. To put it simply, my plan was for a butterflied, flattened turkey breast, rolled in a bacon weave, stuffed with "junk". In this case, my "junk" would consist of grilled onions, roasted sweet peppers and provalone cheese. Then we'd smoke it using indirect heat with hickory chips. When finished, it could be sliced and placed on a bun for a yummy sammich (yes, I said "sammich") While in theory it was a fantabulous idea, the execution proved to be a bit more difficult and didn't go quite as smoothly as planned. But I'll get to that in a moment. As you can see from the pic, at the end of the day (and I do mean that literally), with a little perseverance, ingenuity, and about a twelve pack case of beer....mission accomplished!

So the first thing I do is to roast the peppers and grill the onions. Now, some prefer to roast their peppers whole, I like to split them in half, then go ahead and clean them before roasting (or in this case grilling) That way, there's less mess later. I drizzle the onion slices and pepper halves with oil, then salt and pepper and put on a gas grill, low-med heat for about I dunno, 10-15-20 min? (a beer later, hows that?) Remove the onions when they are soft, but not all the way caramelized. When the peppers blister I throw them into a large bowl with a lid and let them steam. This will loosen the skin and make them easy to peel off. (alternatively, you can throw them in a brown paper sack). Cut the veggies into strips and set aside.

Next, I got the bacon weave going on. I used 1/8" thick sliced bacon, about 1 1/2 pounds. Arrange the bacon weave on a double layer of plastic wrap, it will be easier to roll up later. Sorry I don't have pics of these steps (my hands were yucky) but basically, lay out an entire row of strips that are as wide as the length of a piece of bacon. Then, starting in the middle, lay out the first piece perpindicular to the other slices. Work from the middle out to each side and weave the other pieces in. Make sure it is a tight weave, it will hold together better. It's easier to "weave" it if you pull back every other strip and then lay down the whole perpindicular strip. Well crap, this is getting complicated....jus' go here to see how the pros get 'er done.. (that's a video of a "bacon explosion" btw)

Ok, so far so good. Here's where things started going wrong. Originally, I was going to just pick up a bone-in turkey breast, de-bone it, then butterfly the breasts. But while at the store I thought, I'll just buy a boneless turkey breast and save myself the time, right? Well, I didn't pay close enough attention and ended up buying a turkey roast. If you don't know, a turkey roast is made up of big chunks of white meat wrapped around bits and pieces of dark meat, then wrapped in an elastic type netting to hold the whole thing together. Crap. Since I was planning on the turkey meat to hold in my "junk" at first thought, this wasn't going to work. I almost chucked the whole idea. But then I thought, hell, I'm used to piecing together delicate sculpted cakes, surely I could do this right? So I took apart the roast, took out the dark pieces and just used the large white chunks. I butterflied the largest ones and laid them in between two pieces of plastic wrap and pounded them with a meat tenderizer (the smooth side) until they were relatively the same thickness. (Hell, I was going to do that anyway with the whole turkey breast) Then I arranged the pieces on the bacon weave, overlapping the thinner edges and ends so that it would hold in my "junk". Next, I sprinkled on some of my "House Seasoning/Rub" for some extra flavor.

Next, I layed out the provalone slices overlapping them somewhat. They had been sitting out at room temp which was good because it made them more pliable when I got ready to roll. Then I spent a whole bunch of time strategically placing the colored strips of peppers, alternating each color, all in nice little neat rows. You see, I had invisioned the end product being sliced and seeing each color of pepper in one row. OK.... Whatever.[eyeroll] Drink a beer and just relax DD, this ain't the food network. Just slap the shit on there and call it a day. Which is exactly what I decided to do with the onions. LOL

Now, what is somewhat important is the placement and size of each layer. I've done roulades before, so I had some insight. If you'll notice, I have the bacon weave the largest, the turkey layer is slightly smaller than the bacon weave so in the end, the bacon can be draped or tucked around it. Then I have the provalone the same size so it can help to "glue" everything together. Now the veggies, you want slightly shorter on the side you'll be rolling to. That's because when you start to roll, they'll get pushed in that direction. If you fill it up too much, it's not going to all stick together and you'll loose all the junk in your trunk.

If you'll also notice in the pic above, I'm using the plastic wrap to roll the log. Makes it much easier and keeps things tighter. Rolling it up wasn't a problem at all, in fact, it was the easiest. I ended up with it seam side down and then I panicked. That's where things took a slight turn for the worse. I thought about all of my "junk" oosing out of the bottom. Crap. Or the whole thing coming undone once on the grate of the smoker. Bigger Crap. Oh, I know! Get the NET! So I got the net that the roast was wrapped in and rolled the log over onto it. Well, the net was too small now to wrap back around my fat log (duh, huh?) and at this point the bacon was starting to soften up. Crap.

Things started to unravel on me. Literally. Damnit. But I'm so close??? I refused to give up! So at this point, I wrapped the whole thing up in plastic, laid it in a foil pan and stuck it in the fridge, while I regrouped. I had to think about this...for awhile...or another beer. I know what you're thinking...just put it in a pan and call it a day. But my original plan was to put the turbajunkin directly on the smoker grate, with a drip pan underneath, so the bacon would be nice and crispy. Afterall, who wants soggy bacon on their sandwich, right? So as I'm standing there, starring at the wood chips for the smoker soaking, I come up with the idea of a sling!

So I threw some dowel rods (that I normally would use for cake supports) into the water with the wood chips, so they'd be wet and wouldn't burn. Drank another beer while I soaked (er uhm I mean they soaked). So after a beer (or two) later (hey, it's the weekend) I threaded the dowel rods through the netting and crimped the foil so the "braces" wouldn't roll around. (uhm, afterall, my drunk ass has to carry this thing all the way down the steeeeep deck steps to our smoker, insert shock face) My husband was quite impressed with my McGyver skills. ;)

So the "man", fired up the smoker using natural chunk oak charcoal. Don't ask me how many chimney starters it took, I have no idea, that's his job. All I do is tell him what temp I want it to "hover at" and he gets it done. In this case, I had emailed my buddy Matt, an expert smoker/griller over on bakespace, who wasn't around at the time (sniff sniff, just when I needed you the most Matt lol) so I had to "guess". I decided on around 225-250F (which btw, was what Matt suggested when he emailed me back). So as you can see, we used the true smoking method of indirect heat and when the coals were good and hot, threw on the hickory chips for even more flavor. Whew, time to relax for a bit.

So we haul our laptops and cooler out onto the deck, ready to soak up some sunshine, smell the fruits of our labor, and just chill out for a couple of hours on this beautiful Sunday afternoon. All was right with the world..... Then.......the clouds rolled in. Crap. My supportive hubby says, "It's just a sprinkle, here, have a 'nuther beer". Quite naively I ask, "Oh, is it going to pass over ya think?"... Bigger rain drops, more clouds. Crap. Oh, and btw, it was just in the BACK of the house, out in the front of our house, nice and sunny. One of those freaky things that happen, once in a blue moon. (hahaha, get it? blue moon?) Nope, as luck would have it....had to grab all of our shit and pack it in. Hell, at this point, who cares? Whew, made it in just in time for the big freakish downpour. My recliner is way more comfy anyway.

Well I'm happy to report that about 4 hours later (ok, could have been 3 hours, we kinda lost track of time) it was time!!!! I sat the turbajunkin on a cutting board to let it rest. At this point, screw the side dishes, I just want a sandwich. I couldn't wait. I really should have let it rest, afterall the poor thing had been through a lot (but then again, so had I). So I sliced it using a serrated knife anticipating what every bbq smoker looks for...the coveted smoke ring. Which, if you don't know, is a pink "ring" around the outside of the meat that is a sure indication that the smoke flavor has successfully permeated the meat. I was stoked to see the juicy succulent meat indeed had a perfect smoke ring!

It was a beautiful thing indeed. Perfectly crisp bacon on the outside, tender juicy turkey on the inside with a gooey flavorful filling in the middle. Oh man. Oh crap (but in a good way this time). Now, as perfect as it was, in hindsite, I'd change a few things. First, I'd still grill the onions but not the peppers. They were a little too mushy after all that smokin'. I think they'd be better just a wee bit more firm. Secondly, I wouldn't have freaked out about the thing falling apart. I could have very well just gently laid it on the grates, seam side down, with the pan underneath the grate as originally planned because the bacon tightened up as it cooked and held everything together. Another thing is, I'd give it time to rest so it wouldn't fall apart when I sliced it (I knew better) and also, give the cheese a few minutes to cool down and tighten back up. Lastly, although I highly recommend using a smoker, you could do this on a grill, but it would HAVE to be a charcoal grill AND use the indirect heat method by moving your HOT COALS to the side. As if I really need to explain that, but I thought I better...in case you're having a few beers. LOL

So there you have it, my "turbajunkin". Seriously, no condiments needed! I have every intention of doing another now that I have one under my belt (get it? huh? "under my belt" hehehehe, oh never mind)....and oh man....there WILL be a next time...for sure!!!! Between three of us (uhm, the vegetarian didn't partake, as tempting as it was) eating and nibbling all nite, the whole thing was gone by the end of the night. If you try it, please let me know, I'd love to hear any tips or adventures that you'd care to share. ;) Enjoy!

Jul 19, 2009

Fair Food Night!

I love the fair. Wait. I love the food at the fair. I actually hate everything else about the fair; the rides, the heat, the kids puking on the rides, the smell of animal crap, the crowds, the walking, the parking and walking....yup, it's official, I hate everything about the fair except the food. The fried food in particular. But at home, I very rarely fry anything. It took me a long time to break those artery clogging inbred habits of my southern predecessors. (not that I don't have plenty other unhealthy habits) There are some exceptions of course and this usually happens in the summertime. Fried green tomatoes, an occassional batch of doughnuts, and then there's what's become our annual "fair food nite". So for one night, our entire meal is fried up in a big vat o' grease. Usually we do it in August (state fair time) but this year I had it early. Yup, it was like Christmas in July! I really REALLY had a hankerin' for pork tenderloins, but opted for our usual corndogs with onion rings on the side and elephant ears for dessert. (the staple dessert being funnel cakes, close, but different than elephant ears) Besides, I now have an 18 year old that is vegetarian, so I thought I'd ruin her otherwise healthy diet with some corndogs, veggie corn dogs that is. Hey, I'm a good mom, what can I say? BTW, That's her on the top right, when she was 4. Yes, at the fair, with her elephant ear that was obviously bigger than her head. Ain't she sweet? (well she used to be anyway! HA!)Now my baby's all grown up, going off to college. The last of 3 girls. YIPPIE, er uhm, I mean....awwwwweeeee (sniff sniff, sad face. what? not convincing enough?)

Ok, let's get on with it. Corndogs. I've tried several recipes over the years and stumbled upon these last year (sorry, can't remember where, otherwise I'd give due credit)..."Indiana Style Corndogs", how fitting, right?

Indiana Style Corn Dogs

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon onion powder
Dash of pepper
1 cup evaporated milk
1 egg, beaten
12-14 hot dogs
12-14 skewers
corn starch for dusting
vegetable oil or shortening for deep frying

You want to get your hotdogs ready before you mix the batter. This is so the baking powder doesn't loose it's "umph" too soon. Dry off hot dogs with a paper towel. Dust with corn starch and rub off excess. This will help the batter stick to the dogs.

Skewer hot dogs with wooden skewers (I used bamboo sticks, cut down to size, but you could also use popsicle sticks); set aside. If you let the hotdogs come to room temp the frying time is quicker and much more even.

In bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl beat the egg with the milk (I just do this in a measuring cup). Add to the dry mixture and whisk quickly.

Coat dogs with batter by laying in and twirling in the mix, a flat whisk is helpful. Or, pour mixture into tall glass and dip hot dogs until coated. (kind of messy but it does work better) me, I do it the "hard" way. LOL The goal is to get the batter even, if you don't your dogs will not "spin" over in the oil and cook evenly.

Gently lower corndogs into hot oil. Deep-fry at 375 degrees F until golden brown (about 2-4 minutes). I can usually fit about 4 dogs in my pot. I wouldn't do more than that anyway, else you may lower the temp of the oil/grease. Drain on paper towels or rack (I used a rack and lined it with parchment paper). Here's a tip: If you're doing veggie dogs, fry them seperately and mark the skewer with a marker when you pull them out so that you can later identify them. BTW, the vegetarian reports that she couldn't detect a difference with the "veggie corndogs".

The original recipe said that it would make 10 corndogs. I was actually able to coat 12 dogs with this batch of batter with enough for probably 2 more. (In all fairness, I made the coating a bit thin). One more tip: keep dogs warm on a parchment lined cookie sheet in the oven set at 170F while you finish the batch and so they'll stay warm while you make the onion rings.

On to the onion rings. Now, at first glance, this recipe my seem a bit too simplistic, but just trust me, it packs a lot of flavor! I've used seasoned salt, and I've use Old Bay seasoning, both are equally good. Now, I haven't tried it with any other kind of beer except for bud light (a staple in our house) but I could totally see a dark stout tasting awesome.

Beer Battered Onion Rings

1 quart vegetable oil or shortening for frying
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 dash seasoned salt (or Old Bay seasoning)
1 dash ground black pepper
1 cup beer
4 medium sweet onions (I use Vadelia or yellow)

Slice onions and separate rings. Set aside to dry. I just put mine in a plastic colander. If you allow them to air dry a bit, the batter sticks to the rings better.

Meanwhile, in a large stock pot, heat oil to 375 F.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, seasoned salt, and pepper. Whisk to combine. Wait until your oil is hot and ready, then quickly pour the beer into the dry ingredients. You don't want to do this too soon or else you'll loose the bubbles in your beer. Whisk quickly until smooth.

Dredge onion slices in the batter, until evenly coated. I usually do half of them at a time so that they all get evenly coated. Lower rings into the oil, one at a time so they don't get stuck together and they'll brown more evenely. Fry in the hot oil until golden brown. This may take several minutes, depends on how thick your slices are. Also, don't try to crowd too many in, you want room enough for them to "swim" LOL Once brown, drain on paper towels, or a rack.

Now for my favorite part of the meal.....the Elephant Ears! Now although I did these last and a couple of hours after dinner, know that the dough has to rise for about 30 minutes, so plan accordingly. I used a recipe from bakespace, that happened to be from one of my beloved friends who is no longer with us, Marlene (aka queenietwo). For her original recipe on bakespace, click here. Parts of the recipe seemed a bit odd to me, but I had grown to trust Marlene's recipes, so, as I do for most dough recipes, I followed it as it was written (well, almost), but I probably will change a few things next time. There WILL be a next time. ;) If you don't know what elephant ears are, they're like a flat, fried (of course) doughnut, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. Best eaten warm and they are a staple at most state fairs. (at least, here in the midwest)

Elephant Ears

1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons white sugar
1/3 cup shortening
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 quart oil for frying
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons white sugar

Combine milk, salt, 2 Tbsp of sugar, and shortening and heat until shortening is melted. Ok, the original recipe calls for 3/8 C shortening (why?) I just used 1/3 C, close enough and easier to measure. In fact, the only thing I'd change about this recipe the next time is to use maybe only 2-3 Tbsp of shortening, I thought the 1/3 C was a little heavy. The other thing is, she heated hers on a stove (might have been an older recipe, I dunno) I just heated it in the microwave until the shortening was melted. Let that cool to lukewarm. (no less than 110F, you'll need it warm enough for the yeast to rise)Sprinkle yeast over mixture and let dissolve. Give it a little stir.

Next, mix in the flour, all at once. It may be a bit difficult at first, but it does come together. I just mixed it as much as I could then I turned it out onto my cutting board and kneaded it until smooth. Cover it with a towel and let it rest and rise for about 30 min. Here's something else I would have changed. I think next time I'll rub just a bit of shortening on the outside, it did crust over a bit. (ok, I know better) While you're waiting, mix the 3 Tbsp of cinnamon and 6 Tbsp of sugar in a small bowl and set aside. Once the dough has rested, divide it into 2 inch sized balls (a little smaller than a baseball) It really depends on how big your pot is. It took me a few before I got the hang of it. Next, roll them out with a rolling pin and just stack them to the side. I got about 5 or 6 pretty good sized ones out of this recipe.

Once you have them all rolled out, lower one into the hot oil. (I think mine was about 375F) It only takes a few minutes for one side to brown, then, flip it over using tongs or a wide metal spatula. When it's evenly browned, take it out and again, drain on paper towels or a rack. Immediately, while it is hot, sprinkle on the cinnamon and sugar mixture with a spoon (be sure to flip it over and get both sides!)

So there you have it...heart attack on a plate! (for reals) Fry responsibly...too much of a good thing is BAAAAAAAD. ;)

To Marlene....still missin' ya girl, I think of you often. Rest well my friend.

Jul 17, 2009

Pittsburgh Road Trip and The "Strip"

Finally, part 3 of our trip to Pittsburgh for the bakespace get together. Jim and I were excited to be getting away for the weekend. We hadn't been anywhere, alone, without our girls, since we were married (going on 13 years). At the same time, I think we were both a bit nervous...I mean, we have to be cooped up in a vehicle? just the two of us? for like 5 1/2 hours? Now I know what you're thinking, 5 1/2 hours isn't that long right? Well you haven't traveled with my Jimbo. (yup, that's my Mr. wonderful doing his dork face in the pic) I mean, the man doesn't stop for anything. The only exception is for gas. Seriously. You have to hang your ass out of the window just to pee...there's no stopping nor slowing down for that matter. Not kidding. We took the girls to Florida once for vacation when they were little. Drove straight through...18 hour drive...had to beg him just to pull into rest stops.(grab the wheel and jerk to the right is more like it) Three little GIRLS, do you have any idea how many times 3 little girls have to peeeeeeee? Well when you get to be my age, your bladder IS LIKE A LITTLE GIRLS', only bigger and WEAKER if you get my drift. But that wasn't going to stop me from getting the hell out of Dodge, so I loaded up on salty snacks, limited my fluid intake, and away we went.

It took careful planning, but my master plan for appealing to my man's stomach in order to make a pit stop worked (somewhat). Of course I started this process as soon as we hit Dayton OH (are we going to eat breakfast?), then again in Columbus, I reminded him that we hadn't eaten breakfast, so how about some lunch? Finally, as we got west of Columbus, somewhere in BFE (Zanesville, I know now only 'cuz I looked it up), I remind him that we won't be eating lunch at Karen's in Pittsburgh, and I still had the cake to set up so it would be a loooong time before we would get the chance to eat. BINGO! That did it! (I didn't even have to jerk the wheel) So he takes the next exit (From I-70 E, exit 160 for Sanora Rd.) and as luck would have it, we find this little jewel. In the freakin' middle of no man's land stood a Denny's Classic Diner! Way too cool for this foodie to pass up. Nostalgic, grease/salt, and a bathroom!!! What could be better? (at this point, hell, I didn't even care if it was clean). The inside was just as cool as the outside. That loud hubbub diner rush (order UP!), people sitting at the counter, more people crowded the tables and booths that were all decked out in red, white, black, and chrome. Awesome. I can't even remember what we ate...Hey, it was just the same ol' Denny's food, ya know? Doesn't matter. I still highly recommend it. It was the quintessential road trip stop!

I started getting a bit nervous because it was heating up outside, and after all, I had a three tier fondant cake in the back of the truck that I was babysitting. So we gulped down our food and headed off. We soon hit the tip of WV and I couldn't help thinking of one of my bakespace beeps Debbie (aka monkeybusiness) that couldn't make it to the get together this year. So I waved HI and snapped a pic as Jim zoomed through, peddle to the metal. (I think he was afraid I wanted to make another stop) Sorry Deb, I would have visited, but the man wasn't havin' it. LOL It wasn't long before we saw this welcoming sign, oooh, we're almost there! The trip had gone smoothly up until the point my husband asks me to check the exits. Navigate? I'm expected to NAVIGATE? Now, had he told me this way back when, I could have been doing something constructive, uhm, like reading the haphazard stack of printed off Google maps (AND the directions Karen had emailed) instead of filing my bitten off, non-existent fingernails. So, as I get my bearings, I instruct him on which exit to take (I believe 3 times), I look up and he's taking the wrong exit??? He says, "I asked you". I say, "yup, and I told you... 3 times".... (Give me a gun).... A short squabble and couple of off and on-ramps later, we're back on track. I say, "wish we had a GPS". He says, "I do, on my blackberry"(???)..... (Give me a .22 rifle). Yup, the whole time, GPS, on his blackberry, WTF? So we finally made it to Karen's, miraculously unscathed I might add, and come to find out....he was right....(OK, Give me a DOUBLE BARRELED SHOTGUN)....that's WAAAAAY worse than ME being right. What he FAILS to admit, however, is that he was referring to the directions that Karen had emailed...NOT the Google maps that HE had printed off that he was having me to refer to. [eyeroll] MEN!

Ok, so fast forward past our wonderful weekend at Karen's. Sunday morning, after checking out of the hotel, we had decided to go into Pittsburgh and check it out since neither of us had been there before. I seriously wanted to see the "Strip District" downtown that my PA buddies, Karen and Spryte are always talking about. I must say, it was totally worth the effort and didn't disappoint. "Wicked Cool" as they say. A long strip of shops, restaurants, and street vendors.
First on the agenda was breakfast, so we walked down to the end of the strip and found yet another nostalgic diner, Pamela's Diner. I'm not accustomed to being put on a "waiting list" for breakfast, but when there's a line out the door spilling out into the sidewalk, it's gotta be good, right? (either that or it's the only place around) It proved to be worth the wait.
Jim was quite happy with the blueberry stuffed crepe-pancake-type thingy that he ordered, while I opted for their "classic" breakfast of eggs, chorizo sausage, and a whopping side of what they call their "World famous, layonnaise potatoes". True to the claim, these were quite possibly the best dang fried 'taters this southern-bred gal has ever tasted.(and trust me, it's hard to beat the south when it comes to 'taters) Now normally, I'm one of those weird people, that don't like their food to touch on their plate...but for breakfast, and one like this I might add, I don't mind a'tall.

After we ate, we (obviously) were in need of some walking off that breakfast. Time for some SHOPPING! It didn't take me long to figure out why my foodie friends are always so enthusiastic about the "Strip". Of course there were tons of the usual touristy type shops that sold flavored popcorn, fudge, candy, and the like (which of course we gladly patronized). There was a Penzeys spice store, a fish market, produce stands, a huge kitchen gadget/supply store, and so much more stuff I can't even remember it all. You name it, they had it. But when we came across the "Pennsylvania Macaroni Co" I was totally stoked! As soon as we hit the door in fact, I was greeted by a display of not-so-easy-to-find-in-Indianapolis baking items. I couldn't contain my excitement (that's apparent in the pic) I'm telling my hubby, "YOOOOU don't understand....". LOL! His reply, "oh boy, we're gonna need a basket". In complete awe, I had yet to see their international cheese shop, Deli, fresh pasta, fresh bread, and oodles and gobs of cool-as-hell grocery items. To say it was like a kid being in a candy store doesn't even begin to describe my euphoria. A little passed the front door and around the corner I spot the oil and vinegar. Like, a whole ISLE of it...Screw the basket...where are the carts? I'm tellin' ya, Indianapolis is a large (huge in fact) city, chocked full of great restaurants, pubs, liquor stores, and cool stuff...but when it comes to food shopping of any kind, our city totally sucks. Perhaps only my foodie buddies will understand my excitement, my husband sure didn't. But bless his heart, he hung in there, all the while skillfully maneuvering the basket, catching stuff in mid air as I threw the items over my shoulder. Ok, it wasn't quite that dramatic, but seriously, I could have done way more damage to his wallet had my ankles and feet not started to swell up like helium balloons. I did end up with quite a hull. In fact, we had to purchase a cooler and ice while there, just for the array of cheeses, pepperoni, and stuffed olives that we bought. Besides, I wasn't about to take any chances with my prized fresh mozzarella ball in brine, nor my apple wood smoked cheddar score....mmm.mmm.mmm.

We made it to a few more shops then my swollen ankles really started to hurt. Which was weird, it's usually my back that goes out (due to a joint disorder). Perhaps DD had too much salt and alcohol over the weekend, ya think? Plus my dumb ass wore cute little sandals and didn't bring my tennis shoes. (what the hell was I thinkin'?) Anywho, I had talked to my buddy Spryte earlier in the day (check out her blog "Spryte's Place", she's one cool chick), when we first got there, and made plans for her and Jon (her hubby) to meet us somewhere for dinner or a drink later, since they live just on the south side of downtown. We were so looking forward to meeting up with them. Both Jon and Jim brew beer and make wine at home as a hobby, so I thought it would be really cool for our guys to hook up. Sadly, regretfully, just a few hours later, I could no longer walk in those cute little sandals.....I had to bail. (sniff, sniff) So sorry Spryte! Next time for sure chicky!!! (and I WILL be back to your wicked cool town)

Yup, it was time for us to hit the road and head on back home. We made it just outside of Pittsburg and pulled over to gas up. Although I was careful not to complain about my situation (afterall, it was mostly self inflicted), Jim had enough of my squirming and took the opportunity to throw me in the back seat so I could lean the front seat forward and put my feet up. Like a toddler with my pillow, snacks, and juice box (well, ok, it was a 7-Up bottle), I was happy as a clam. We're both thinking, why didn't we think of this before? I had no idea it was so comfy back there!

As we headed off into the sunset (literally), Jimbo with his toddler in tow, it was a smooth ride home......That is, except for the detour in Columbus due to an accident on I-70. Which sent us an HOUR out of our way...thru the worst part of Columbus, OH (shock face)....which looked disturbingly familiar...you know, like from all those episodes of COPS??? Yeah, not kidding. So he starts with the read-the-map-where-are-they-taking-us thing. (gee I dunno, 'jus follow the REST OF THE CARS, duh). Oh boy, here we go again. I say, sarcastically of course, "Uhm, I believe you have GPS on your blackberry, no???". I'm thinking; "better yet, why don't you pull over and ask for directions???" and "where's that gun".... LMAO

I'm happy to report we made it home safe and sound and without killing each other. With only a few minor wounds, I might add, considering what could have happened. In case you're wondering (and as if you care), it only took about 2 days in my recliner and drinking about 5 gallons of water for the swelling to go down *they're still just a wee bit swollen in the pic) All in all, it was a great trip and worth every bit of discomfort... and marriage counseling.

In fact, I'd do it all again in a heartbeat....and plan on it soon....with tennis shoes on..... and a GPS.

Jul 9, 2009

Cookover in PA; Food, Drinks, and BEEPS!

Last year, a small group of members from bakespace.com met up in a restaurant in Richmond, Indiana for the day. It was so much fun to finally get a chance to meet the people that I spend hours and hours chatting with in the forums on a daily basis. Well this year, a group of us met in Pittsburgh, PA. In the photo above, from left to right; Margarite (aka Spryte, PA), Sheryle (cookiebaker, OH), Cara(NJ), Kathy (soccermom,MI), AnnMarie(PA), Jennifer (motherof2boys,MI), Michele (luv2cookmb,NJ), Karen (gigi,PA) and Me (ddpie,IN). Martha(NY) was also present but MIA for the pic. Karen had graciously invited us all to her home in Pittsburgh, PA. for the weekend. (brave girl) There were 9 members in total, and some of us brought husbands or guests and we all stayed at nearby hotels. We're all wearing the cutest cupcake aprons that Karen had made each of us. She also made all of the guys aprons too. From left to right, we have Jim (PA), Michael (OH), Dan (PA host), and my Jim (IN).

eloquent Karen Jim and I arrived at Karen's house Friday afternoon to set up the cake and other baked goodies that I brought. We were greeted by Karen (that's her on the right), her mom Margaret (love her!), husband Dan (Dan the Man), and Spryte (aka Margarite, also from PA). Karen's home is absolutely gorgeous and when I rounded the corner from the dining room and saw her kitchen, I'd thought I'd died and gone to heaven.

Spryte carves a pineapple
Seriously, a foodie's dream kitchen. Not only does she have top of the line appliances, but it was stocked to the hilt. The woman has everything...and I mean everything. Spryte had arrived earlier in the day to help with the food preparations and was like me, all wide eyed and glazed over with envy. We kept asking Karen, "do you have....such and such". We soon learned to just say, "where is your...such and such" LOL That's Spryte, on the left, carving the pineapple boat that was to eventually hold a fruit dip.

dish with recipe With Karen being the typical Italian, she had apparently intended to feed us until we burst, having prepared a full line up both Friday night and Saturday day and night. She diligently planned dishes utilizing recipes from various "beeps" (bakespace peeps) for each day. To say she was organized is putting it mildly. There were recipes for each dish printed out laying in the dish it was to be served, with a porcelain place card of the member/author of that recipe to be placed in front of the dish.

It was so thoughtful of her to include some of our "beeps" that couldn't make the trip. She obviously had put a lot of time and effort into planning out every detail. (you should have seen her lists of lists LOL) Not to mention that her and Spryte had met up prior to the weekend to do all of the shopping for the ingredients and stuff for the party. A big hug and kuddos to both of you for working so hard for us and also for representing the beeps that couldn't be there with us!

Michele & Cara, our Jersey girls Originally, Jim and I, had planned on going out for a romantic dinner Friday night and joining the party Saturday. So I set up the dessert table, hung out for a few hours, then we went to the hotel to check in. Well, I couldn't stand being away from my beeps and was anxious to meet (and see again) everyone that had started filtering in. That's the "Jersey Girls" Michele and Cara there on the left. Jim was so sweet and understanding (as if he had a choice LOL), so we headed back over to Karen's house. It was so cool to finally meet my BEEPS! To the right, Sheryle, me, and Martha. Sheryle, me and Martha What's funny to some people is the fact that we all acted as if we'd known each other for ever. What some people don't understand is that we've already been friends. I mean, we talk to each other on a daily basis, sharing our lives and daily routines. Just because we do it online doesn't make it any less significant. So when we get together, it's like we already know each other, we just happen to be seeing each other in person for the first time. They were all even more adorable in person and I loved hearing their voices and accents for a change instead of just reading type. (I'm sure they got a kick out of my hillbilly accent, that, btw, gets worse the more I drink!) Several times throughout the weekend, we even had the video chat pulled up on our laptops and had our bakespace buddies joining in on the goings on. We took turns chatting in a chat room that Babette, the site owner had installed for us. It was great to have the ones who couldn't make it in person there with us.(yeah, hopeless foodie computer geeks, sigh)

We ate, drank, talked, and laughed for hours. Of course I had to do my stand up comedic act ('cuz that's how this Leo rolls LOL) and as if I needed any encouragement, Karen breaks out the Limoncello, homemade Limoncello, recipe courtesy of Culinary Alchemist (aka Shane). Literally, months in the making and it only took me about 1 hour to put a serious dent in the bottle. (ok, Ann Marie's Jim liked it too, so the big dent wasn't all my fault) LOL Dat shit is da bomb! Ann Marie & her JimNot kidding! Karen, Shane would be so proud ;)

I know, you're supposed to sip it, well I was sipping it...I just sipped it faster than anyone else! In fact, I think I sipped every one's leftovers LOL Wooooohooooo, better than shots of tequila! That's Ann Marie and Jim to the left there, I think that's proof enough that I wasn't the only one that liked the limoncello! Whazzzzup wit dat Jim, huh???? We also got to sample several types of wine. I'd offer a tasting review, but well, uhm, I think you get the idea of how the evening went.

A toast! To my BEEPS! Saturday I woke up and felt a bit tired, but surprisingly, no major hangover. According to my husband, I was a little loud coming in the night before (yeah, apparently yelling "I love you man" in the hotel hallway to my beeps Michele and Cara, oh gawd), sooooo, I had promised him I'd use my "inside" voice the rest of the day. [eyeroll] LOL First on the agenda was to go find alcohol so I could hook my girls UP back at the house with some cocktails. (which, come to find out, isn't as easy as it sounds in the suburbs of PA) But I was determined and the mission was accomplished! Jennifer (MI) When we finally arrived at Karen's, much to Margaret's (Karen's mom) dismay, I was a wee bit quiet. (too quiet according to Margaret! ;) ) It didn't take much convincing for Jen, Kathy and I to fire up the blender and get the mango margaritas and Bahama Mamas flowing. (I believe Jim from PA was hogging the limoncello, or hiding it from me, I'm not sure) Ding Ding Ding....round two! Wooooohooooo! Yup, that would be my pal Jen (I'm so proud!), next to her avatar....fitting right? LOL

Tons more food was being prepared, with everyone pitching in at one time or another. That's Sheryle in the background, Kathy, Jen's sister with the look of concentration plastered on her face. Wait...is that an empty margarita glass next to her? Rah-row....the bartender was apparently slacking off. So where was that bartender anyway?

Oops, I'm sooooo busted!

The guys stayed occupied doing, well, whatever guys disappear and do. Oh, I guess they did the (guy) grill thing. Dan "the man" did an awesome prime rib roast and also a rotisserie chicken (which my Jim just had to get his hands in there and become one with the chicken).

Dan the Man with the roast beast We had an array of side dishes, you name it, it was there. Corn, baked beans, potatoes, bread, fruit salad, pasta salad....There was so much food I seriously can't remember it all. But if you want a complete rundown of what we had, along with the recipes, check out the complete list here, in the bakespace forums.

After eating, we had our gift exchange, in which we all brought a gift bag or basket that had items in it that represented us or our state in some way. We drew by "states" which was really cute. I gave stuff I've blogged about; vanilla extract, vanilla sugar, basalmic strawberry jam and I threw in a bottle of wine from my fav local winery. I drew Spryte's gift and was thrilled to receive Penzey's salad spice blends and a bottle of sandwich sprinkle herb blend. Plus, she had stuffed the box with bay leaves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Very cool!
Of course we had a laptop with the video chat out on the patio with us while we all opened our baskets. There's Ann Marie, chatting away with our beeps at the end of the evening. (Everyone must have went for a bathroom break LOL) The evening eventually wound down and sadly, it was time to go. Most of us stayed in town another nite but were planning on checking out and leaving early in the morning so it was time to say goodbye to our friends and give Karen, Dan, and mama Margaret some much needed rest. The next morning, Jim and I actually drove into downtown Pittsburgh to catch some sites and check out the strip district. (I'll blog about that next)

mama Margaret To Karen, Dan, and mama Margaret; thank you so much for your gracious hospitality. You made us all feel so welcome and right at home. Karen, you did WAY too much (but that's just "what you do", right?) I just want you to know how much we all appreciated how special you made our weekend. Mama Margaret, it was totally our pleasure to meet you. You're a hoot girl! (Jim and I are still talking about how cute you are) You are all "our kind of people", "keepers", for sure.

To my beeps; you all are so very very cool and I hold a special place for each of you in my heart. Great people, good souls, and no one could ask for better friends. Thanks for the good times and memories that I'll cherish for a lifetime. I LOVE EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU MAN! (and no, I'm not drinking limoncello.....that's for reals LOL) For those that couldn't make the trip this time around, I truly hope to see you next time, you were truly missed and often thought of my friends. (to Dani and Shane, my Cali beeps, I missed you both man!)

And finally, a huge thankful hug to Babette, the bakespace site owner. Without you girl, none of this would have happened. Thanks so much for the wonderful site and bringing us all together. I hope that we will, someday, get to meet you in person, you're awesome chicky!

I'm missing my beeps already....sniff, sniff. Can't wait for next year! Good times, for sure!

For more stories and pics of the weekend, head on over to Michele's blog. (If anyone else blogs about the weekend, please let me know and I'll link to it also). HUGS!