A little sweet….a little spicy….and great flavor!

First of all, I cannot stress enough how thankful I am for those of you who reach out to say how much you enjoying reading my posts. I am by no means a professional cook (or have nearly the amount of experience Matt has in the kitchen), but I am still humbled by the positive feedback and for those of you who follow my Instagram and request recipes just by looking at a photo. So again, thank you and I will do my best to keep bringing you new and delicious recipes!

Now, I’m sure I have mentioned by now how Matt and I love our bacon-wrapped shrimp. (And for grilling season, it can only get better!) Shrimp is a fairly inexpensive protein (if you know how to look for a good sale–you can get 2 lbs. frozen raw shrimp for under $20!) and lends itself to some great flavor profiles. Matt and I normally go simple with this one: Old Bay seasoning (because when you live by the water, Old Bay is the go-to) and of course, bacon! And when you do use bacon, be sure to pound it out nice and thin….that way it’s easier to wrap and you can make it stretch a little bit–haha, get it? Stretch?

**And if you look in one of my prior recipes, I’ll even share how you make it!**

Still, we needed a sauce for dipping. Normally, there’s a pretty sizeable side dish that we add with the shrimp, so no sauce is needed….but we went rather simple with our side. Some diced avocado in lemon juice, cilantro, salt and pepper–therefore, sauce was necessary.

While it’s not always my favorite thing, I will say this: Matt is a pepper and hot sauce fanatic! If he can make it hot, he will. Me….I can’t eat spicy the way he can, but that’s not to say I won’t try to incorporate more heat into our dishes. (As long as I can control how much it will burn my face off, I’m okay.) Although, I am proud to say that more and more recently, I have been experimenting with peppers in our dishes (seeds removed, of course) and the results have been successful. Poblanos, jalapenos, serranos, green long hots….I’m working on it.

So it was no surprise when Matt suggested a honey sriracha dipping sauce, I was on board! I would say an accurate measurement of the honey v. sriracha ratio is 2 parts honey, 1 part sriracha. You can always adjust if you want it sweeter….or spicier. (And if you have never had sriracha, please know that a little goes a long way. Unless you’re Matt, who can douse so many things in sriracha.)

I stress this many times over: don’t be afraid to spice it up from time to time! (If you can handle a little bit of spice.) And if you’re wondering if it was delicious….well….I’ll let the picture speak for itself:

Enjoy!

~Jenny V

Spicy Tips: As seasons change, your seasonal recipes can too!

Matt’s all-time favorite dish that I make is meatloaf….and I’m sure if you have been keeping up with reading my posts, you know that I posted said meatloaf recipe (with permission from the husband, of course) for all of you.

(Some of you even told me that you tried to make it and offered me some tips–thank you, it makes me feel great that you tried out something I shared with you.)

Unfortunately, what I have found in our house that only has window AC units….using our oven during the summer seems almost impractical if we would like to keep the house nice and cool. Sure, out of necessity to partially cook items like chicken thighs, we need to use the oven before tossing those babies on the grill to achieve crispy skin (because bone-in thighs would take forever to cook on solely the grill)–but not without closing our partition between the kitchen and living room and running the fans like it’s our life line. It’s just simply too hot to use our kitchen the way we’d like.

Which brings me back to the meatloaf. On my way home from work, I always call my husband to let him know I am on my way (so we can start discussing dinner if we hadn’t already during our lunchtime conversation.) Matt had had a day that warranted a great dinner, and after having my own stressful moments at work, since he’s always cooking for me on his days off, I decided that my husband needed his favorite meal….which now required making meatloaf without melting in the kitchen while it was cooking.

And that’s when it hit me: meatloaf burgers….which has now become his second favorite meal that I make.

I proposed the idea to Matt and after a few minutes of thought, we agreed to test out my meatloaf recipe on the grill. This required hamburger buns, a good cheese, and some adjustments to make the meat workable in grilling form. (And yes, the shredded cheese still goes in the burger, as well as any cheese you pick on top. Might I suggest Provolone?)

There are no words for how delicious this meal turned out, paired with a fresh salad and some grilled corn….let’s just say those burgers did not make it through Jeopardy….possibly before Double Jeopardy was done.

So if you have time, go to my meatloaf recipe and make these adjustments for burger form:

1) Add a little bit more ground beef. You want about 1.25 pounds of meatloaf mix and .25 pounds of additional ground beef, as 1.5 pounds makes eight decent-sized burgers. The beef will also help keep the burger together a little more.

2) One egg only! I mean it, keep the amount of egg to a minimum to enhance the flavor, but not make a mushy consistency.

3) A little less shredded cheese. A handful will do it (a small handful, as I’m using my own hand as measurement), and make sure it is well incorporated in. That cheese will help keep the burger juicy while cooking.

4) Like meatloaf (and unlike most burgers)–cook this baby all the way through! With meatloaf mix (beef, pork, veal), you’re going to want that well done. You don’t want to get sick.

5) Use brown gravy as dipping sauce/condiment in place of ketchup. Matt confided in me last night (while inhaling three of these burgers) that he was getting sick of ketchup on a burger and has started using hot sauce as an alternative. Well, I think beef gravy fit that bill nicely! I also think if you want, adding some sautéed mushrooms on the burger with the cheese and gravy yields the same tasty result.

6) Once those patties are made and pressed, let them chill! Probably one of the more important tips….and it is necessary! Those burgers need to hold their structure and after working the meat to incorporate the ingredients, letting them cool and firm back up will ensure that they’re not falling apart on the grill. I’d say give them at least 30 minutes to an hour to hang out in your fridge. (So yes, prep them ahead of time if you’re anticipating being super hungry!)

And if you’re still not sure about making these burgers….well….I think this might help:

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V

The Basics of a Great Sauce…and Gravy

Growing up with the Italian side of my family, knowing how to make a gravy is key.

Yes, gravy, which is a tomato-based sauce with a veritable cornucopia of meat and seasonings in it cooked over an entire day. And if you don’t think there’s a difference between sauce and gravy, you are sorely mistaken! Sauce has no meat in it, gravy does and various kinds, I might add. Trust me on this, cooking gravy is a process that changes the texture and flavor in the most delicious of ways. (You also don’t want my family to argue with you on the sauce v. gravy debate….really, you will not win.)

I also realize most of us associate gravy as being brown in color and used for such things as roasts and mashed potatoes. Really, don’t argue with an Italian who calls their sauce gravy. Just accept that this is truth and you’ll be fine. You can debate with someone who isn’t Italian. :::haha:::

But we’re getting off track here….today is sauce (because there’s no meat in it) and how to make the most basic of sauces.

Last night, Matt and I decided to make grilled shrimp with pasta…and wanted a nice red sauce, but had no pre-made jars of sauce to use. (I know, sacrilege, but we both work so sometimes a jar is a nice convenience when we don’t have the time to dedicate to making a full-fledged sauce.) But no matter, we had a can of tomato sauce, seasonings, and a little ingenuity. It’s not like we haven’t made a quick sauce before. And with seafood, we were able to get a little creative with at least one or two of the ingredients.

Every family has their own way of making their sauce, so I’m happy to say that this is ours. I stand by this version time and time again, and I hope you will too….or at least make your own variation. The true foundation of a great sauce or gravy are the ingredients you put into it…one of them must be love.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V

P.S. – On a side note, seafood does not count as meat….this is still a sauce!


Jenn’s “Not Your Average” Sauce

28 oz. can tomato sauce

2-3 tablespoons Olive Oil (just a little bit)

3 Garlic Cloves, minced

1/2 Onion, diced

2 tablespoons Italian Seasoning

1 teaspoon Salt

1 teaspoon Pepper

1/2 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper (don’t need it, but this is my basic sauce and spice is nice)

1 tablespoon Basil (extra is always better)

1 teaspoon Sugar (oh yes, I’m not kidding–you need this one to make the salt flavor pop out more)

1 bay leaf (optional item, but definitely creates great flavor when added–just be sure to

1 can clam juice (this is optional, but if you are making seafood with your pasta, then you really can’t go wrong here)

Directions:

1) In cast-iron pot (or large pot) over medium-high heat, add in olive oil, allow to warm 1-2 minutes, then add in minced garlic and onion. Stir 2-3 minutes and allow aromatics to come out.

2) Add in remaining ingredients, bring up to a slight boil, then lower to simmer and cover with a splatter guard. Cook on medium-low for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with pasta (or whatever you like).

Attack Life with relish….I mean, salsa

Well, while it may be chilly for June, it is grill season in our house! Yes, once Memorial Day weekend arrives (maybe even a little before, but it’s a safe bet with Memorial Day), Matt starts aggressively grilling any and all meat that we get from the supermarket. It’s time to move the cooking from indoors to outside….and it does get delicious!

Now, before I get into talking about whatever new recipe Matt & I have thought up, I should preface our grilling adventures with the story about the death of our first grill. Our little two-burner Brinkman finally bit the dust last week when the bottom decided to catch on fire while grilling up chicken thighs.

Needless to say, those thighs got a lot of char (which we were able to peel off to utilize the delicious meat underneath) and so Matt wanted to not only purchase a new grill, but upgrade it as well. In the end, Lowe’s provided us the best deal on a brand new Char-Broil 3-Burner Grill with an ignition button. I swear, Matt looked like a kid with a new toy when we brought it home and set it up with the propane tank. And let me tell you, that first meal off of the new grill was simple (and sooooo delicious!)

He looks like a kid who just got a new toy….love him ❤️ #newgrill #summer2015 #lovehim #happyhusband #nowiwantfoodplease

A post shared by Jennifer Vintzileos (@jennyrockstar) on

Which brings me to tonight, when we picked up some beautiful boneless skinless chicken breast (especially since they were on sale this week, despite our best efforts to locate London Broil first) and figured it was time to fire up the grill! Last week’s purchase of fresh mangoes had us contemplating grilled mango with that chicken breast to amp up the flavors, but it was my suggestion of grilling red pepper as well that had me wondering: Why not make a salsa?

We had the mango, we picked up a nice meaty red pepper, and with a little bit of love from the grill, fresh chopped onion, and some seasoning….salsa became a success (and a colorful side!)

And little bit of a tip: if you are unsure of how to cut up a mango, Google is your friend. Trust me on this, because even my abilities to cut up a mango came from there (and I need to improve!) Also, just know that while grilling, you want to cook ithe mango cut side down and leave it in the skin until you are ready to prepare the salsa.

The best part about cooking is being able to share with all of you what I call the “first drafts” of a recipe. I feel like maybe next time it could use a little bit of jalapeno, possibly fresh cilantro, and a touch of citrus. But for a first time, I practically inhaled that salsa like I was going to the chair! (And great news for all of you Celiacs: it’s GLUTEN-FREE!!!!)

With June underway, move your dishes out of the kitchen and find ways to use that grill! (Or if you don’t have a grill–get one! You need a grill, it’s important and you will love what you can make on it.)

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V

Roasted Mango & Red Pepper Salsa

3-4 Mangoes, cut into large pieces

1 Red Pepper, halved and seeds removed

1/4 small onion, diced

1-2 teaspoons Dried Cilantro

Olive Oil

Salt 

Pepper

Directions:

1) Over a medium-high heat on grill, place red pepper halves skin side down. Drizzle a little bit of olive oil inside peppers. Grill until skin starts to peel away from pepper. Remove and chop halves into bite-size pieces. Add to large bowl.

2) Before mango goes on, make cross-cuts inside the mango with a knife. Once ready for the grill, place mango slices cut side down onto grill. Grill for about 2 minutes, then remove and once cool enough to handle, push on the skin to turn the mango inside out and remove meat from skin. Add to red peppers.

3) Add diced onions. Drizzle with a little olive oil, no more than a teaspon. Season with salt, pepper, and cilantro. Mix thoroughly and serve.