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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Meatball Subs

I love watching Pioneer Woman on Food Network.  Ree is so down to earth and "real"... I can make AND enjoy eating her recipes.  She is "every woman" in the food world.  This past week-end I was catching up on some of my DVR'd episodes of Pioneer Woman and was laughing with her as she was scurrying to make "fast" recipes.  Her mini meatball sandwiches looked so tasty, I decided to use her basic recipe and bump it up a bit in size... thus my latest version of a Meatball Sub was born.

Since I don't have a big bunch of kids to feed, I scaled down the quantity and boosted the size of the meatballs.  Here's what I ended up with.

Meatball Subs
Based on Ree Drummond's Recipe


1 pound ground sirloin
1/4 cup Italian breadcrumbs
1/4 cup milk
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely diced
1/8 yellow onion, very finely diced
Salt and Pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/8 yellow onion, larger dice
Sliced Provolone
Grated Italian Blend cheese (mozzarella, etc.)
Jar of Marina Sauce (I used Barilla Spicy Marinara)
Wheat Submarine Rolls (I used Cobblestone Mills)


In mixing bowl, combine ground sirloin, breadcrumbs, milk, diced garlic, finely diced onion, salt and pepper.  Mix with your hands until everything is well-incorporated.  Using a medium-size cookie scoop, measure level scoops of meat mixture and place on plastic wrap on counter.

In large skillet, heat olive oil and add larger dice onions.  Cook over medium heat until lightly browned.  While onions are cooking, roll the scoops of meat mixture into meatballs and place in pan with onions.  Raise heat slightly and cook meatballs until browned on all sides.  Add jar of Marinara Sauce and gently toss the meatballs to cover with sauce.  Put a lid on the pan and reduce temperature to low to continue heating through.

Cut center tops of the sub rolls at an angle to remove a triangle of the center of the roll (making a boat for the sauce and meatballs). 

Line the cut section of the sub rolls with sliced provolone cheese and melt under broiler.

Place sub on plate and spoon 4 to 5 meatballs into center of roll with extra sauce.  Sprinkle with grated cheese and serve with a fork!

My family loved these.  We ended up with about 22 meatballs...the men scrounged the last few and gobbled them down.  This was a great, and quick, week-night meal which I would have happily served to guests!  Very tasty!!!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

How to Survive When You've Had Enough Sun!!!

As I've mentioned before, we used to vacation on South Padre Island for at least 15 years before we moved to the area nearly 5 years ago.  One of the problems I always encountered (being the freckled, white skinned girl that I am) was what to do when I couldn't take any more sun and everyone else was still going and going like the Energizer Bunny!

Over the years I have found a few activities that those "less than sporty" and "shade loving" individuals can use to occupy time in the area!  This is not the place to look for all those fun-in-the-sun activities.  Check out the links on South Padre Live for loads of THAT kind of information.

1.  Visit Paragraphs on Padre Blvd.  - Our wonderful independent book store is at 5505 Padre Blvd. in a lovely turreted building on the West side of the main street.  Booksellers Joni and Griff will welcome you warmly and offer you a comfy chair and cool a/c to while away some time browsing books, playing a game of chess, checkers, or scrabble... or just having a nice chat.  They often host book signings, poetry readings, book discussions, and writer's workshops.  See what's on their schedule while you are in town!  One of my favorites.

2.  Get up early or go at sunset to the bird walk, butterfly garden, and water feature by the convention center.  We were so delighted the first time we went to stand and watch the birds at sunset as they flew in by the droves to bathe and forage and prepare for night.  The sunset is glorious out over the bay.  Take a won't be sorry.  It's free! (Don't forget to check out Wyland's Whaling Wall #53 on the convention center)

3.  Sea Turtle, Inc. - I can listen to their informative lectures time and again.  Hearing the history of the facility, visiting all of the turtles living there or in rehabilitation, actually going to a hatchling release during the summer...the possibilities are endless...and shady for the most part!  Please make a donation so their excellent work may continue.  Buy an eco-friendly turtle souvenir in their shop!

4.  The Dolphin Research and Sea Life Center in Port Isabel (next to Pirates Landing) is an educational opportunity for the whole family and always worth a walk-through visit for a nominal donation.  Touch Tank, aquariums, rescued never know what you might encounter.  Take time to view the video and the posters about "Dolphin Whisper" Scarlet Colley's work identifying and loving the local tribe of bottlenose dolphins.  I've taken an excursion with Scarlet and the joy of a dolphin sighting is up there in my "best life experiences".  She always seems to know where to go to make sure there's some dolphin love to be had.  Schedule an excursion by contacting Scarlet at the number listed on their website.

5.  The South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center provides an additional opportunity for viewing flora and fauna of the area.  I've enjoyed cool morning walks (and hot afternoon walks) and had the opportunity to experience a wonderful variety of birds.  Small fee for this one - not too much shade either - so pick your time wisely.  We've gone at different times of day, different times of year...always walk away amazed and happy.

6.  Sabal Palm Sanctuary is an exceptional place to visit - no place else quite like it in the United States!  It's located in Brownsville, right on the Rio Grande.  I can't say I've ever visited in the summer, but Winter visitors will find this a cool and refreshing nature walk easy for all, even those not so fit :-)  Wear sturdy shoes.  I accidentally wore limited my exploration!  Take a camera.  There is a donation fee - well worth it!

7.  Rent an umbrella and lounge chairs!  It was a necessity, not a luxury, when we used to allows those prone to sunburn to enjoy the coastal breezes in the shade.  Cool off in the waves then scurry back to your lounge chair and let the breezes blow across your moist skin.  Heavenly!  Check with your rental company or condo to find out who the authorized vendor is for your area of the beach. 

8.  If you are used to going to waterparks and having to stand in long, sun-searing lines on asphalt paths....visit Schlitterbahn at the Beach.  The lines are primarily in the water.  With a hat, a long sleeved shirt, and lots of sunscreen, I could usually make it through the day.  My kids always wanted to be there when the gates opened and not leave until they closed.  I could handle that by finding and staking claim to a table and chairs under a shady palapa seating area.  You can take your own food and drinks (no glass containers - your ice chest will be checked!) into the waterpark but be careful not to leave food out (even chips in packages).  The gulls and grackles WILL peck open a bag of chips and eat them in your absence.  I've seen it every time I've been to Schlitterbahn!  People are always so shocked when they return to see their big bag of Lays ripped to shreds.  Secure your belongings, and that includes food!  I'm no longer enthusiastic about riding the inner tubes and sliding...but I enjoy getting wet swimming in portions of the lazy river or the wave pool, then returning to whichever side of the big Sand Castle is shady and sitting with my feet in the water...then I return to the palapa and read a book.  It manages to be a fairly enjoyable visit, every time I go to Schlitterbahn.  It doesn't hurt that they have cocktails and beer available too!

9.  Schedule a morning or late afternoon Sand Castle Building Lesson with Sandy Feet.  She is the best and has the patience of Job.  Check out her website... we've taken her classes over and over.  We own the book, the tools, the DVD...Incomparable!

10.  Check out classes at South Padre Island ArtSpace...or just stop in and shop!  Located at 1817 Padre Blvd., a unique and lovely group of local artisans sharing their skills and selling their creations.  It's wonderful!

11.  SHOP - there are a plethora of souvenir shops if that is your thing...but if you'd like a slightly different shopping experience, head to places like Ship Shape, Desert Cactus, or Isla.  You'll see the difference when you walk in the door.  The staff are all friendly and courteous...the inventories are very nice.

12.  Schedule some personal spa services at my favorite, Venus Nails & Spa.  The team is friendly and attentive.  Appointments or walk-in.  Located at the intersection of Padre Blvd and East Amberjack.  Excellent service in a relaxing atmosphere.

13.  Do the Lighthouse Square shopping round while in Port Isabel.  ArtSea, The Rusty Pelican, and Coastal Winds are some of my favorite shops in PI...but there are many more around the square well worth investigating.  If you have the energy to climb to the top of the lighthouse (not cool, but it is shady!) you will find the view beyond compare.

14.  Head off the island and enjoy the wonderful zoo in Brownsville.  Gladys Porter Zoo is an outstanding zoo full of a surprising wealth of information and exhibits.  It was more than I had expected and a jewel in our little area of the country.

15.  If you are in town on a Friday or Saturday evening during the Summer - find yourself a spot to watch Friday Night Fireworks on the bay or ocean or Saturday Night Fireworks on the ocean.  Our preferred place for Friday night on the bay is a table at Louie's Backyard, stuffed full of their buffet meal and margaritas OR Laguna BOB's with a bowl of ceviche and a beer.  Grab a place early and eat slow...slightly after 9:00 p.m., you'll see a wonderful fireworks display from a barge in the bay. For ocean fireworks viewing Friday and Saturday nights, find a spot on the enormous deck at Clayton's.  Either bay or ocean...both provide a perfect beginning or end to a wonderful summer vacation!

Timing is everything.  Hit the beach early, come in for lunch and a nap, do an activity from the list above, head back to the beach in the late afternoon... I like to time afternoon on the beach when the condos throw shade onto the beach (OK - let's say early evening).  Then, when the sun is dropping low, shower off and head out to eat, then back "home" to sleep like a baby...get up and do it all over again the next day!

Have fun and Bon Appetit Y'all!!!


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Run to Hear 2013 Cookies!

I've written in the past about Run to Hear... a charity near and dear to my heart.  It's a wonderful charity focused on raising funds to help support deaf and hard of hearing children who want to hear and speak.  A group of children, calling themselves The Deaf Club since they were pre-teens, are now all entering their late teens and early 20's.  They wanted a way to "pay it forward" because they know how very fortunate they are.  All of them, through the years, have become cochlear implant users and they are very aware of how incredibly expensive their gift of hearing has been for their parents.  They came up with having a benefit 5K to raise funds...and this was their 3rd event.  In past years, most of the work was done by the parents, with the kids in training.  This year... a huge amount of the work was done by the young adults.  Before long, I expect it to be totally in their hands.  We are all very proud parents.

This month's incredibly busy schedule included learning a new cookie decorating technique (actually TWO techniques) and using said techniques in the preparation of 150 cookies for the Run to Hear families and for some excellent volunteer workers!

Technique #1 - Using edible wafer paper, printed with the Run to Hear logo, as the centerpiece of each cookie.

Technique #2 - Finally getting the correct royal icing consistency so that I could learn to pipe a shell border. 

I started by working with our tech support guy and photographer extraordinaire, Alex Labry, on the Run to Hear team.  He provided me with a .jpg of the color logo.  I then sent the logo to an Etsy seller, CookiePixie.  She worked with me to custom design the wafer paper order to make the most cookies possible at the lowest cost.  I received many compliments on the vivid colors...she was great to work with.

Next, once I received the wafer papers (30 to a sheet), I began making cookie dough and baking off the cookies - I elected to go with small scalloped edge squares.  It took 4 batches of Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookie Dough rolled 3/8" thick.  Next, I prepped enough white royal icing to outline and flood 160 cookies (extras in case I screwed up).  I needed to make sure it was smooth, so it was a bit looser than usual and they turned out really nice.  One thing I will do if I ever attempt a huge project like this again, is to make a template and draw, with food color markers, an outline on the cookie of what I want to pipe.  My base coat sizes were not consistent.  Anyway, after I got them all flooded, I set them under the fans (I had to buy an extra fan to keep them all going...humidity was HIGH).  I knew I shouldn't be particularly concerned with bubbles because I knew the wafer paper would cover most everything.  However, my need to have things neat made me compulsively try to make each cookie bubble free!  I let them dry thoroughly under the fans for 24 hours.  Applying the wafer paper requires a completely dry base coat.

The next step was to cut the square logo prints.  I had read on the Cookie Pixie blog that she sometimes snipped off her corners to get good adhesion.  I did some without...and most with curved corners.  The ones with straight corners tended to be the most difficult to get to lay down flat.  Since I'd never done this before, I messed up a few.  I tried techniques I had read about on The Cookie Connection web site...and I ended up finding the most success painting the back of the rounded corner squares with corn syrup. 

I wiped my hands with a moist dish towel and dried them between every single application.  The deal with wafer paper...water melts them immediately.  The deal with painting with corn syrup...very sticky endeavor.  Impossible to get the edges without getting it on your hands.  I soon got into a rhythm.  Because my cookie surfaces were not consistent I learned quickly to just cut all of the squares and put them in a bowl.  Then, I'd sit three cookies in front of me and my bowl of light corn syrup and artist's paint brush.  I had a pair of tiny, very sharp scissors at my right hand and a cleaning station to my left.  I trimmed each square to fit each cookie and allowed the trim bits to fall into a ramekin.  Flipped the paper, painted the back and carefully turned it onto the cookie, gently smoothing all the way to the edges.  Move the cookie to the rack in front of the fan.  Complete the 3 cookies, re-smooth the edges...repeat 160 times.  Dry another 24 hours.

The next day, I made more royal icing and added just a spritz of water to the thick "concrete" to make the stiff icing to pipe the shell borders.  I had never been successful with making a shell border - either the icing was too loose or I didn't "get" what the motion was supposed to be like.  Then I watched Julia Usher demonstrate it on her Ultimate Cookies DVD.  I had some wax paper to the side and used it, as she instructed, to practice and make sure my tip and icing consistency were just right.  After watching her a few times, it just clicked!  I used a #13 Wilton star tip and I went to town!  I did mess up a few and let my husband eat the mistakes. 

I also wanted to eat one myself to make sure the wafer papers tasted okay.  Truth was, they didn't taste like anything.  They didn't melt as fast as I expected and I could tell there was "something" on the icing...but it tasted just fine!  150 cookies later, under the fans to dry again.  The piped border neatly covered all of the wafer paper edges.  I had every intention of piping colorful dots around the outer edge of the scallops...but I gave up.

OK - I admit by this point, I was T*I*R*E*D of cookies!  I gave myself a break and then got started on bagging each one.  I decided not to tie with little ribbons this time, but did seal each with a happy face stickers.

I boxed them up and prayed they would make it unscathed on the 390 mile journey to my destination.
The prayers were answered and the run, and cookies, were a success.  Whew! 
Deaf Club Members and the young ladies who came up with the idea of
paying it forward with a charity event...
Claire Labry, Bridget Black, and Karlie Franke!
Photograph courtesy of Alex Labry Photographer
Bon Appetit, Y'all!StumbleUpon

Saturday, July 6, 2013

What's Up Pup?

It's been a busy few weeks here at the coast.  Balancing regular work, working out, working on cookies, husband's new work schedule, and working on household chores ...results in lots of work going on!  The good news is that my husband is working a regular day shift for the first time in 20 years (woo hoo!).  He's been traveling a LOT for the past 5 years and he was soooo ready to get a job close to home with no 350 mile journeys to get home for a week-end.  That DID happen in March...but he wasn't all that happy...and he still had drive 130 miles every day.  He was very fortunate to get a job even closer to home within the same company and started two weeks ago.  It's been quite an adjustment...a good adjustment, but it is a change!  I'm back to cooking regular dinners, having more laundry, and needing to be "with the family" in the evenings instead of working on my many projects.  When you then add Zumba back into my life with an additional topping of working out in the gym 5 days per week... my free time has gotten more challenging to find! 

Blogging seems to be slipping between the cracks.  My family doesn't like to wait for photos and stuff before eating...that wore thin fairly quickly the first year or so of blogging!  Now, however, I'm starting to gently push the issue again! 

On the 4th of July we stayed at home and avoided the high volume tourist traffic heading to the island.  We love the island in the Fall and the Spring...we do NOT frequent the island much during the Summer!  Holidays and week-ends are particularly unappealing now that we live here and can enjoy a traffic-and-crowd-free season by waiting for September.

Our grill died a rusty death (a side effect of living on the Laguna Madre) and Mr. Flip Flop had bought some beautiful Choice boneless Rib-eyes at Sam's Club.  I picked up some fresh jumbo Gulf Shrimp at Quik Stop in Port Isabel and thus we had the makings for Surf and Turf...even if I had to do them in a stove-top grill pan.  They were outstanding!  We are particularly fond of baked yams so I picked up a few at the grocery store as well as some really nice fresh green beans.  I had intended to make some of Ann Smith's Sour Cream Crescent Rolls but time got away from me and we ended up with Pillsbury's Crescent Rolls instead.  We were so full from all of the good food, we could have done without the bread completely!  Everyone else had already done a nose dive into their steaks and shrimps when I realized I had only eaten one shrimp and still had a "photo op" with my here it is.  My steak was half the size of the boys' but their plates were no longer "attractive", so the smallest shows here!  It was really quite an easy dinner to throw together.  I seasoned the steaks with Weber Chicago Style Seasoning (one of our favorites after dining at the Weber Restaurant in Chicago) and while the steaks were resting, I quickly pan-grilled the peeled and de-veined shrimp.  I snapped the beans while watching one of my DVR'd shows and boiled them in simple salt, pepper, and onion powder.  Delish.  Yams went in the microwave and were perfectly tender and moist.  Yummy to the X-treme!  I only ate 3 shrimps and half of my steak...but I ate two servings of green beans and all of my yam.  We all sat around in a food-induced daze after dinner!!!

Dessert was quickly-decorated miniature star sugar cookies (eaten later that evening).  I started them late Wednesday night and finished them off on Thursday morning.  They were all gone by Friday.  Not my best work, but I was at a tired spot in the day and my hands were not cooperating with piping straight lines and my red icing was not "just right" in the consistency department.  Still, they were very patriotic looking and the family was appreciative.  They are liking the slightly revised recipe I've been using (Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies) and that I'm rolling at 3/8" thickness instead of 1/4".  It makes for a slightly softer, more buttery textured cookie.  Mr. Flip Flop and I went to Lowe's last week-end and bought me some 3/8" untreated trim board to use as rolling guides.  They are fabulous!  Easy to roll out consistent thickness cookies.  Plus, they are much sturdier and less inclined to break when I shake them or bang them on the table to get a smooth surface.  Thicker is better I think!

On Friday I started a big 150-cookie project and spent the past afternoon, evening, and this morning busily base-coating 13 dozen cookies.  The decorating of those cookies will take several days and involve a new technique (or two) for keep your eyes out for a blog post on that before long!

Hope everyone had a great 4th...we sure enjoyed relaxing at home.  Sometimes that is just the best thing in the world!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!