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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thanksgiving Cookies 2014

We are having our Thanksgiving on the Saturday before Thanksgiving... because nurses rarely get time off around the holidays...and my husband is a nurse.  Hospitals are 24/7 and you are all glad they are when you need them.  Like other service providers - police, fire, EMS, hospital, military - and any others I left out, well, the families learn to be flexible.  We learn it isn't the specific day we celebrate, it's celebrating the season in whatever special way we make it.  I'm kind of used to it now...still don't like it, but I'm used to it.  We are driving to spend time with some of our Austin family and to make our presence known with the Indiana family, I sent cookies (what else).



I've been working on these for days - and they are bagged, sealed, bubble-wrapped, and boxed with a prayer that they make it through the US Mail system to the Indiana crew.  If there are broken cookies, well, look at the photos and enjoy the taste.  I'm always wanting my cookies to taste better than they look.  A cookie is to be enjoyed both visually and by taste...but really, primarily taste, right?

I got my leaf inspiration and my cute turkey inspiration from enrolling in the online version of McGoo U.  That Arty McGoo has put together a first class cookie instruction/entertainment/share fest and I'm so thrilled to be a subscriber.  I have watched all of the October and November videos and the dotted and painted (with food coloring) leaf project was part of the long class for November.  Then, the precious seated turkey, looking somewhat alarmed and bug eyed (with those cuteeee feet) was the project from visiting Professor Georganne Bell aka LilaLoa, in the segment "Expert Lab" in November's sessions.

I doubt I really did either cookie artist/instructor justice, because I had to adjust each for my "tastes"...but I admit to feeling somewhat proud of my watercolor leaves!  It gave me the courage to try it different ways, despite not having a good color palette of Wilton gel colors to use.  I stopped buying Wilton several years ago and have been a devotee to AmeriColor with a few sidesteps to ChefMaster from time to time.  I will absolutely admit though, Arty McGoo is right on.  I had left some AmeriColor gel colors on the palette from maybe 6 months ago, in a plastic baggie.  The darn things were still sticky to the touch!  I set up a palette with the Wilton and they are dry and not sticky at all.  I'm going to re-stock my Wilton colors, just for painting!  My leaves look a bit psychedelic because I really didn't have the recommended colors.  Nonetheless, I like them...I am embracing my inner kindergartner who enjoys playing with water colors.

Let me just say... CHECK OUT McGOO U ONLINE!!!  If you want to step up your cookie decorating game, this is a great way to do it.  Internationally renown cookie artist, Arty McGoo, shows you step by step how to make some really cool cookie sets.  You can try it out on a monthly basis or there is a reduced price for annual subscriptions.  I'm changing my monthly to annual as soon as I finish paying for Christmas!!!  My gift to myself. (Although I may sound like it, I am not a paid endorser, nor stalker of these people...LOL!!!)

I haven't stenciled in a while, so I tried a few different plaques and stencils and sprays and thick RI...I learned, once again, that my cookies are not flat - but I still liked the overall look of these cookies.  My favorite is the large leaf with a pearlized spray over a Designer Stencils paisley stencil I picked up at CookieCon.  It looks simple, yet elegant.


I also really like the Cookie Countess subway art and leaf stencils.  They turned out nothing like I expected, but absolutely love they way they look in the end (the gold tint is from an epic fail on my part by over-saturating spray which I quickly wiped off - to result in a gold overtone to the light green cookie - then I sprayed darker green on top of gold green...turned out kind of cool.


Simple leaf was stenciled with thick royal icing, just blobbed
on in layers, then scraped upwards to make the
color changing Autumn leaf!

The stencil for this plaque cookie is from Designer Stencils obtained last year.  The berries along the edge were also sort of learned in McGoo U - I had never thought about dropping another color inside a berry.  That was from the October tutorial with visiting professor, Maryann Rollins, aka The Cookie Artisan.  I also used foodcolor from my palette and a fine tip brush to paint some copper/brown leaf veins and acorn tops.  I need to get over being afraid of painting things - especially when icing just won't do.  I'm gonna be stretchin' my wings, y'all!


I got this tall pumpkin cutter earlier this Fall and I must say I am in love with it.  The ivory pumpkins turned out just the way I envisioned them in my head.  I got it, and a stencil genie, from Creative Cookier.  Unfortunately, my big plaques were too large for the genie...but the paisley stencil on the leaf worked beautiful...Literally hands-free stenciling!  So excited to use it on some of the Christmas cookies I am planning.  Wheeee!!!  I'm getting wound up just thinking about it :-)

Thanks for stopping by and checking out my playtime with cookies.  I baked and decorated 80 cookies (I ate two - one red velvet and one vanilla bean sugar - just to ensure quality control!).  I can't wait to share the goodies with my family members, both near and far.

Good thing we are empty nesters and don't eat at our
kitchen table...because where the heck would I spread out
my cookies while decorating?
I cropped out as much of the surrounding area as
 possible - you just cannot imagine the mess I make
when decorating.  It's an embarrassment!


Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!! 


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Friday, October 31, 2014

Sugar Skull Cookies

Dia de los Muertos is a big deal where I live in South Texas, really close to Mexico.  I really wasn't very familiar with it and, prior to living here, thought of it as a part of Halloween.  It is not!  Here's a link to a National Geographic article that describes the celebration, which is held on November 1st and November 2nd.

I remember first learning more about it in a Rick Riordan book I read from his Tres Navarre series.  As a native Texan, I loved the familiar locations and events and the description of traditions like Day of the Dead.  Rick Riordan is now so famous for his young adult literature that many people don't know about his adult mystery series.  It starts with Big Red Tequila and the whole series is worth reading!  As usual, I digress.

A friend asked me several months ago if I would make some sugar skull cookies as a decorative addition to her dessert table...at her wedding...on Day of the Dead.  She just wanted a small nod to the date.  I had never done them before so I was somewhat nervous...but agreed, thinking I would have plenty of time to learn!

So, I studied a 2013 tutorial from Marlyn at Montreal Confections and actually watched it several times to get the concept sort of embedded in my head.  I also made a Pinterest board of make-up ideas for the holiday - thinking I could "cookie" them.  I also started making royal icing transfer roses for use on the cookies, as well as some fondant/white sculpting chocolate sea shell molds (my personal nod to our coastal location).  Those items may be made well in advance and stored in tightly sealed containers.


I also purchased some cookie cutters of various shapes and sizes and some stencils from The Cookie Countess to try out.

I planned out all of my steps and ended up using the complete basic layout method from Marlyn's tutorial...but wanted the nose and eyes to be black with depth to show some dimension.  I used the one piece of the 3-layer stencil to mark the eyes and nose for consistency (since I don't own a KopyKake projector...aka a KK).  So, using my Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookie dough, rolled at 3/8" thickness and the most basic and small skull cutter I had obtained which was about 3 1/2 inches in length, I got started by marking (with food color marker) and painting the eyes and nose sockets with thinned black royal icing.  Then I outlined everything in black outline consistency icing, using a template from Marlyn to get the jaw line standardized (just printed and cut that section, used a food marker to locate it on the cookie) and after crusting, filled first the jaw section with white RI, and then the top section.  After letting dry completely, I used Marlyn's technique with dry brushing lustre dust... my preferred color was bronze, although I tried rose and red as well.

After that, I wanted the cookies to be unique - two dozen needed so I made 28 to ensure adequate supply in case of breakage (or snackage).  I wanted to use the royal icing transfer roses (I'm not great at those yet, but Sweet Ambs has a great tutorial in her shop)  in the eyes but realized I hadn't made enough so made some small black drop flowers with a colored dragee in the middle out of leftover icing.  They worked really well! Perfect fit in the eye socket!


Several of the cookies used Marlyn's technique of "watercolor" with food markers instead of paint.  It did give great control and I was much more comfortable knocking out many of the cookies with that technique - others I just piped and did curliques (also technique learned from Amber's tutorial shop).  I still have trouble mirroring swirlies, but the more I did, the better they got.  I had so much fun looking at each cookie as a new piece of art.  I'm not overly fond of knocking out a lot of cookies that are supposed to look the same, so the freedom to make a couple of dozen unique cookies was much more appealing to me!

I'll end this with some encouragement for you to check out Marlyn and Amber's tutorials.  They are awesome.  The rest will just be show and tell of most of the cookies - I don't think I photographed each one...but this gives you a good flavor of my nod to Dia de los Muertos!  Partying with the spirits of your relatives who have crossed over feels like a good thing to me.  I am embracing it this year!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!


(Mr. Flip Flop's favorite of the bunch)








Jessica sent me a Facebook post of the picture from their Day of the Dead Wedding Cookie Table... now I wish I'd packaged them a little nicer, I could have put some ribbon on them or something...I was more worried about them being intact and fresh, so I just heat sealed.  Oh well, they still look nice and decorative.  Hope they tasted good too!  Congratulations to Jessica and Michael!!!




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Friday, October 3, 2014

Sausage, Beans, and Rice

Entering Colorado from New Mexico on our way to an evening
concert in La Veta, CO


Well, once again, I disappeared for a month.  One of the reasons was a nice vacation in New Mexico and Colorado (just one day there).  I took the occasional (or hundred) photos but only a few involved food photos.

We had eclectic dining during our trip!

We ate our first meal in Albuquerque at a great little restaurant in the historical part of Albuquerque.  It was cool and dry and the food was delicious.  If you ever are in that area, stop in at the Church Street Cafe...try to sit on the back patio...it's awesome and peaceful and....I just sighed in delight!
Stacked enchiladas on the left with a fried egg on top
and a combo plate on the right with tamale, enchilada, and chili rellenos with green and red sauce.

Our second meal was at a tiny brewery in Taos...incredible grilled chicken tacos with homemade taco shells and hibiscus tea.  Live music and hummingbirds darting about.  It was heaven.  Dark and no photos.  It was relaxing time.

The majority of our meals were eaten around campfires, around outdoor grills, and a couple of times, breakfast in Red River was at a cool little spot down from our motel...Shotgun Willies.  Nothin' fancy but it will fill you right up!  Other than a lunch in Angel Fire, a lunch enroute to Colorado at some intersection somewhere, and another lunch in Trinidad - it was all outside dining!

We vacationed with friends and they had their camper.  They invited us to join them 3 out of our 5 nights there and, really, is there anything that doesn't taste good outdoors?  Especially with old friends and a stream running next to you...or a river running hundreds of feet below you!?!
Red River, NM - by the campground

Wayyyyy down in the bottom of the canyon - The Rio Grande.
(we get our drinking water from the Rio Grande at the south end of it all)

This brings me to the pot of beans, sausage, and rice I am cooking while sitting in air conditioned comfort - in respite from the steamy outdoor temps of the lower Texas Gulf Coast!  It may be October but it was 80 degrees when I woke up this morning and I heard we were supposed to have a cool front blow in tonight...so I decided to make a bean soup (well, not really a soup at the end of it all).  Even if the temperature drops a mere 10 degrees, everyone here grabs a sweater and puts on a pot of something hot.  You have to go for the gusto whenever you can.  It will be a cool 87 degrees tomorrow afternoon.  Really, that's a cool front down here!

Our friend, Pat, cooked two big pots of the most delicious 15 bean soup with ham and onion and other secret seasonings...all over a wood fire...on the rim of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.  That is one remote place!  Quiet, peaceful, and no cell phone service.  YES!
Pot of Beans on the canyon rim
Photo by John Hook

At dusk, the guitar came out, bottles of beer and tequila (and water for me to ensure I did not get altitude sickness) resulted in our singin' 'til our throats were sore.  Awesome memories.

Campfire at sunset - remote and beautiful

Me and Mr. Flip Flop - rarely photographed - our annual selfie!

Awesome friends Pat and Mike



So, in honor of that memory, dinner tonight has been soaking or cooking since 9:00 this morning.  Here's what I did....no wood fire nor cast iron pot included.


SAUSAGE, BEANS, AND RICE

Ingredients:

Hurst's HamBeens 15 Bean Soup (in the dried beans section of the store)
1 pound ring sausage, sliced (used smoked beef sausage)
1 medium onion, halved and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 small can Red Gold tomatoes and chilies - mild (or Rotel)
1 heaping teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 or 2 bags Steamable Brown Rice (each bag serves four - in the freezer section)

Meal in a Pot!

Method:

In a stock pot, soak beans per package instructions.  Discard soaking water and add 3 quarts water to bean pot.  Add sausage pieces.  Bring to a boil, lower to simmer and cook uncovered for 2 1/2 hours.  Add the onion, garlic, tomatoes, chili powder, salt and pepper, and bring up to boil again and allow to low boil for about 30 to 45 additional minutes.  Microwave the rice 50% of the recommended time, and add to mixture.  Stir and allow to come up to boil again.  Lower heat and stir frequently as rice thickens up the soup to the consistency you like.  We like it thick so we used two bags of rice.

Serve with cornbread or tostado chips or warm tortillas.  Muy bueno!!!

15-bean mix, sausage, and rice make for a hearty bowl of goodness!

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bacon-topped Meatloaf

I hated meatloaf as a child.  It just seemed "icky".  I don't know what was wrong with my taste buds as a child.  They were whacked!

Now, I love meatloaf!  I also love bacon and have seen pictures of many things wrapped in bacon, including a meatloaf or two.

I planned meatloaf for dinner this week and had a few strips of bacon in the fridge... I decided to give it a try!

I made my standard meatloaf recipe and then, attempted a bacon lattice on top.  (If I do it again, I would go with thin bacon - I like crispy bacon and this thick bacon did not crisp up very much and the bacon overwhelmed the taste of the meatloaf).

My husband asked if I took pictures...and I said, yes, I had taken pictures.  He felt it was blog worthy so I'll post


Bacon-topped Meatloaf
Printable Recipe Here


Ingredients:

1/2 cup seasoned croutons - crushed
1/2 cup milk or half and half (may need more - adjust as needed)

1/2 large red onion, small diced 
1/4 large red bell pepper, small diced (remove seeds and any white on the inside)
3 to 4 cloves crushed garlic (grind to paste with kosher salt or use a garlic press)
2 large eggs
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp yellow mustard
2 tsp Worstershire sauce
2 to 4 tbsp catsup
1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1 1/2 pounds ground beef (I used 90% lean)
Extra catsup for top of meatloaf before bacon
7 slices sliced bacon
(I would use thin sliced if I was doing it again - the thick bacon
was too thick to get "crispy", which is how I imagined this topping)

Method:

Cover a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside.

In a large, wide-mouth mixing bowl, combine crushed croutons with milk or half and half.  Add more if it sucks it all up and doesn't look mushy.  It should look gloppy, similar to consistency of oatmeal.

Prep the rest of the vegetables while the crumbs are soaking.  Add everything except the ground beef and bacon to the saturated crumb mixture.  Stir until well combined.  

Add ground beef and combine thoroughly, using your hands.  If it needs more liquid to hold shape, add more catsup.  You can check for the correct consistency by making a small meatball with your hand.  Gently begin to shape into a mound while still in the bowl.  When it is holding together well, gently slide it onto the prepared baking sheet (using the large wide-mouthed bowl helps with that).  Pat the loaf to your liking (I like mine more flat than a traditional loaf - the cooking is more even and you don't end up with a pink middle).  With the side of your hand, push down in the center to form a shallow trough; add catsup to the indented area.

Use the bacon to make a lattice top for the meatloaf.  If you don't know how to do a lattice - it is easily found on Google or YouTube.  I have also seen bacon added by just laying strips across the loaf.  Make yourself happy - do it your way!  Tuck all of the bacon ends under the meatloaf.  I thought the lattice looked pretty.

Place in refrigerator to firm up for at least 30 minutes while you preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove meatloaf from fridge and place in middle rack of oven.  Bake for 30 minutes and turn the meatloaf.  Bake another 20 to 30 minutes.  Meat thermometer should read at least 160 degrees and bacon should be crispy.  In the attempt to get my bacon crispy, the internal temp was 170.  Fortunately, all that bacon fat kept everything nice and moist. 
This is AFTER I drained the grease - bacon makes a lot of grease.

Carefully drain the grease and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes after removing from oven before sliding it onto a cutting board using two large spatulas.  
I used two fish-turning spatulas to move the meatloaf intact
onto a cutting board

Use a serrated knife for slicing through the bacon without crushing the meatloaf.   

Everyone has their own meatloaf recipe - some cook the veggies in advance, some like a bit of crunch, some like it packed and tight for slicing.  I like it a little more moist and on the looser edge of things.  Adding bacon - not bad!  I won't do it every time, but I will do it from time to time!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!



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Monday, August 11, 2014

World Famous PadreRitaGrill, South Padre Island, TX

If you've followed my posts from the blog beginnings in 2010, you will know I have been a huge fan of PadreRitaGrill back from its days as PadreRitaVille onwards thru the JB-forced renaming to PadreRitaGrill; and now to the renovated and fresh re-do courtesy of Food Network's Restaurant Impossible (show reportedly scheduled for an upcoming date in October).  I didn't get to be a part of the reno (which I would have loved to do) because I was playing Grandma entertainer for the Summer visits of my two granddaughters at the time.  I wanted so badly to go to the grand re-opening dinner...but I knew it would not be a good idea for tired kids (and I was right from what I hear).

So, my husband and I planned a date night for Sunday, August 10th...he wasn't on call, we hoped the week-end crowds would be heading home from the island, and there was a Supermoon on the calendar!  I told him I wanted to check out the revamped PadreRitaGrill and I wanted to walk the beach for photos of the moon rising.  I got to do exactly all that!

We looked up the moon rising schedule, saw it was visible rising from the SSE, and planned our dining time around that.  It worked out nearly perfect.  Due to traffic issues (I wasn't the only one wanting to see that moon over the beach) I missed the rise over the low horizon...but I did get some right purty pictures! (Yikes, sometimes the Texan just takes over and I have to say things like "right purty")



When we arrived at PadreRitaGrill, around 7:00 the outside looked pretty much the same.  Lovely foliage and fresh pots of flowers along the walkway in.  It's a nice entrance.  When the door opened, the sounds of J. Micheal Laferty welcomed us, as they have so often in the past.
New stage, same musical talent - always enjoy his playing.


Inside the dining area, though, is like a whole other world!  The old decor (which I did like because I'm kinda "that way") was kitschy and a bit cluttered.  The new look is much more elegant, clean lines, more upscale tropical.
Gone were the tikis replaced with simple and elegant
seagulls on wood over the fireplace

Loved the palm cutout and the great new color scheme.
Light and tropical - happy colors!



These pictures on the back wall make you think you are
looking out at the ocean despite being on downtown
Padre Blvd.!

The menu is streamlined to a one page set of offerings - all of which sounded really good.  The new recipes created by Chef Robert Irvine were highlighted.  Both my husband and I decided to try one of the new offerings.  Before arriving, our plan was for Mr. Flip Flop to try the Mole Glazed Roast Chicken and I was going to see if they had my same favorite nachos, and order those if they did.  However, everything changed when we saw so many new choices!


Mr. Flip Flop didn't start out our date night very happily.  He felt the chairs were uncomfortable, we were sitting too close to the stage in a lightly filled restaurant and we couldn't talk to each other... it was too loud for him.  In hopes of salvaging date night, I gave him some ibuprofen and asked to be moved to a table in the back and on we went with our date.

Our service was really outstanding.  Our server (I'm so sorry I don't remember her name - long brown pony tail - cute girl) was attentive, but not intrusively so.  That is a huge improvement!  We got our drinks and continued perusing the menu, declined appetizers, and settled on our choices.  Mr. Flip Flop seemed a bit happier (whew!) so my date night wasn't ruined.

Chimichurri Steak Salad - tasted as good as it looks!
chi·mi·chur·ri
ˌCHimiˈCHo͝ori/
noun (in South American and Mexican cooking) a piquant sauce or marinade traditionally used on grilled meat, typically containing parsley, garlic, vinegar, olive oil, and flakes of chili pepper.


I selected the Chimichurri Steak Salad.  It was described as "Grilled Skirt Steak, Mixed Greens, Guacamole and Chips.  You can see from the photo above it is generous, and looks delicious.  You can also see that is quite a dollop of really outstanding Guacamole.  You do not, however, see any chips. I also asked for no tomatoes - not a huge problem because my hubs always will eat my tomatoes.  I told Mr. Flip Flop that it would have been great with some chips (not realizing until later in the meal that they were actually supposed to be part of the dish and were missing).  I did get a little extra Chimichurri on the side because the salad had a lot of tasty greens and needed "something more" for a dressing.  The Chimichurri was so delicious, I didn't want to mix in another flavor, so our waitress promptly brought me a small amount more which was perfect.  I had asked that the meat be medium, and it was perfectly cooked and tender.  For the price of $12, I felt it was an excellent value and quite delicious.

One of the problems at "the old" PRG was stuff didn't always come out the way it was described.  If I'd realized earlier, I would have said something on the spot.  I know that is something they are really trying to correct.  I let Cathy and Micheal know via a private message - because if it's not right, let management know!  Cathy and Micheal and their staff do, I believe, really want to fix anything that is wrong.  They responded promptly to my message with a thank you and another request to say something "in real time". Regardless of the missing chips, I give this dish two thumbs up for flavor and value.  In fact, it was so large, I only ate a bit more than half and Mr. FF ate the rest.


Mr. Flip Flop loves salmon (and I don't) so he selected Chef Irvine's rendition of BBQ'd Salmon described as "BBQ'd Salmon, Smoked Tomatillo Salsa, Cilantro Lime Black Beans, and Grilled Corn".  The plate was priced at $16.  His feedback was that the salmon was absolutely delicious, including the Tomatillo Salsa.  I sampled only the black beans because I rarely find them well-seasoned and I wanted to see if they had a hit or a miss.  These beans were delicious - perfectly seasoned!  A half ear of corn - no grill marks noted, so I'm assuming not grilled corn - was on the plate.  You can be the judge, but we both felt the portions were very small for this price and the relative low-cost of the two sides. Maybe a whole ear of actually grilled corn would have made a difference if they need to keep the price of the salmon down by small portioning.  It was outstanding in flavor, but my husband cleaned his plate and he was still hungry.   Thus, he ate the rest of my salad because I wanted him to be happy...and I wanted to order dessert (there is always a method to my madness).


Dessert was key lime pie - a hard pie to make "different".  They offered it with a raspberry sauce, which I declined.  I wanted to taste the pureness of the pie.  It seemed an unusually long wait for pie that is already prepared - but that was the only service glitch we experienced - barely worth mentioning.  It was, however, worth the wait.  Nice presentation and absolutely divine in flavor.  Wonderful crust, light dusting of almonds on top, tasty whipped cream to enhance the rich flavor.  Tart enough for my taste buds, but not too tart for Mr. FF.  We shared it and nearly licked the plate.  It was a great ending to the meal.

While we were there, the restaurant filled up and the music was lovely as all of the sounds evened out.  We exited to a Gordon Lightfoot song, and that always puts me in a happy place.


I liked the old, I like the new even better...I look forward to visiting again!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!

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