Monday, May 22, 2017

How to Plan a Summer Barbecue

The weather is finally warming up.  You've decided to host a summer barbecue for family and friends. Good for you!  Are you wondering just what you were thinking?  Is hosting anxiety setting in?  No need for panic.  Here is a summer BBQ menu that is easy to execute with a level head and some thoughtful planning.

I've also prepared your road-map for getting things done without stress.  You don't want to be frazzled when your guests arrive!  This guide will help you to get organized and prepare for your party with a five-day schedule.  You can even choose to use your oven instead of your grill for most of the cooking and still get the flavor you want for your BBQ.

How to Plan a Fun, Stress-Free Summer BBQ

A summer picnic tablescape

Don't be afraid to ask family members for help.  As the saying goes, "Many hands make light work." Most people would love to bring a dish.   Just be sure to be specific when you ask someone to bring a dish.

This menu and plan assume you will do all of the cooking, but you don't have to.  However much you will do yourself, do as much as you can in advance.   That way you'll have plenty of time the day of the party to enjoy your guests.

Five Tips for Your Summer BBQ

Keep these five things in mind and your BBQ will be a hit.
  • Keep your menu simple but delicious.
  • Ice, ice, and more ice.  Running out of ice is a bad thing.
  • Provide shade.  The hot summer sun can be too much for your guests.
  • Keep your playlist fun with summer favorites.  
  • Provide games.  Frisbee, volleyball, lawn Twister (made with four colors of spray paint), croquet and badminton are fun ideas.  

Your Summer BBQ Menu

Appetizers and Drinks

Beer and barbecues go together like peanut butter and jelly.  So stock your coolers with plenty of beer and ice. In my opinion, every party needs one signature cocktail for a festive sip.  For a barbecue, you want to choose a drink that can easily be made in a big batch.  Rum punch and margaritas are two great drink options.  They can be made ahead of time and put in drink dispensers or pitchers so your guests can serve themselves. Another great drink option for a barbecue is sangria.

Summer Appetizers and Drinks
Appetizers and Drinks
Keep your appetizers simple.  Parmesan pigs-in-a-blanket and BBQ jalapeno poppers can be made ahead of time and frozen. Both recipes go straight from the freezer to the oven with ease. No defrosting required.  Salsa, guacamole, and chips are no brainers and BBQ favorites.  Friends and family may have favorite appetizers they would love to share with your guests. Go ahead and ask them to bring their favorites.  That way you'll have one less course to think about.

Printer Friendly Appetizer and Drink Recipes

The BBQ Main Dishes

Where you live will influence your definition of barbecue.  The menu I am suggesting is typical for my neck of the woods.  No matter where you live, for a stress-free barbecue, you want your menu to be delicious and easy to execute.  It's no fun to spend all of your time standing over a grill or in the kitchen.

That's why I am suggesting chicken with chipotle BBQ sauce and pork ribs as the stars of your barbecue.  The chicken is baked completely in the oven and brushed with the barbecue sauce before serving.  The barbecued ribs can also be made completely in your oven.  The only part of this menu you'll need the grill for is the grilled corn.
BBQ Dinner Recipes
BBQ Dinner

Printer Friendly Dinner Recipes


BBQ Dessert Ideas
I like my summer BBQ desserts to be easy to serve and easy to eat.  Cookies and squares of all kinds fit that description. Pies are favorites in the summer because fresh fruit is abundant, but they can be messy to serve.

Dessert is another course that friends and family can easily help with by bringing a favorite treat to share. Don't forget about s'mores, especially if kids will be at your barbecue.

Printer Friendly Dessert Recipes

My Summer BBQ Planning Guide

Here's a timeline to help you plan your summer barbecue.  This schedule is meant to be a guide. This five-day planning schedule spreads the preparation out so you won't feel overwhelmed.  The schedule assumes you have already invited your guests and that you have most of the basic necessities like a grill, seating, coolers, tablecloths, and plates and silverware.  The timeline is flexible, so adapt it to your life and have some fun with it.

Day 5:
    How to Plan a Barbecue
  • Print out the recipes.  Make your shopping list and complete your shopping.
  • Check your supplies for plates, silverware, glassware, etc.  Borrow or buy what you need.
  • Plan your tables, tablecloths, napkins, decorations.
  • Make room in your refrigerator.
  • Be sure you have gas or charcoal for the grill.
Day 4
Day 3
Day 2- The Day Before the BBQ
  • Make the Coconut Tres-Leches Cake.  Stabilize the whipped cream with unflavored gelatin.
  • Buy the corn on the cob and remove the husks.
  • Prep pork ribs with rub.  Wrap in foil and refrigerate.
  • Make rum punch and margaritas. Refrigerate.
  • Marinate the chicken pieces in Italian salad dressing in your refrigerator overnight.
  • Clean the bathroom.
Day 1-BBQ Day
  • Make the guacamole.
  • Make the tossed salad.
  • Make sure you have enough ice.  Fill coolers.
  • Set up your drink area.
  • Decorate and set the table
  • Thaw the cookies and brownies.
  • Plan for trash.
  • Cook the pork ribs.
  • Cook the chicken one hour before serving.  
  • Heat chipotle BBQ sauce.
  • Cook the jalapeno poppers and pigs-in-a-blanket.
  • Cook chicken one hour before serving and top with chipotle BBQ sauce.
  • Fire up the grill, cook the corn on the cob, and top with chili-lime butter.

There you have it, a menu and schedule for a stress-free summer BBQ.  Celebrate family, friends, and fun with a backyard BBQ!

I've prepared a free barbecue planning guide for you.  It includes a menu preparation sheet and a barbecue planning checklist.  Click the link below to get the guide.

Get Your Free Summer
BBQ Planning Guide


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Pork Chops with Onions and Provolone Cheese

Pork chops find their way on my dinner table about once a week.  My family's favorite recipes are in the rotation, but every once in a while I slip in a new recipe.  This Pork Chops with Onions and Provolone Cheese recipe is new and is a winner.  It is easy to prepare and packs much more flavor than you might anticipate from the ingredients.

Family Dinner: Pork Chops with Onions and Provolone Cheese

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Pork Chops with Onions and Provolone Cheese.
Pork Chops with Onions and Provolone Cheese

You'll want to choose bone-in pork chops for this dish.  The flavor is enhanced with bone-in chops. You'll also want to use a skillet that can go from stove top to the oven at 400 degrees F.  I choose to use a cast iron pan for dishes like this.  You'll want to use a 12-15 inch skillet when making this with four pork chops.

The ingredients are easily accessible.  All you need is flour, salt, pepper, fresh garlic, onions, white wine and provolone cheese.  You'll only dirty one pan as you move the preparation from stove top to the oven.  Don't you love that?  I'm all about easy clean up.

The entire prep to serve time for this dinner is approximately one hour, with a good portion of the time spent waiting.  That means you can pour yourself a glass of wine and chill while your dinner is cooking.
Pork Chops with Onions and Provolone Cheese

Pork Chops with Onions and Provolone Cheese

Printer Friendly Recipe
Serves Four
Pork Chops with Onions and Provolone Cheese Ready for the Oven
Pork Chops with Onions and Provolone Cheese Ready for the Oven

  • Four bone-in pork chops
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 medium onions, sliced
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 4 slices of provolone cheese, cut thick
  • 2 Tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.  Mix the flour with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper.  Spread the flour on a plate.  Dredge the pork chops in the flour mixture.  Brush off excess flour.

Heat the olive oil in an oven proof skillet over medium heat.  Place the chops in the pan.  Cook the chops for 4-5 minutes on each side, until browned.  Remove the pork chops to a plate and cover to keep warm.

Add the onions to the pan.  Season the onions with a little salt and pepper.  Cook the onions for approximately fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure even browning.  When nicely browned, add the garlic and cook for one minute.

Return the pork chops to the pan and top each pork chop with one quarter of the onion and garlic mixture.  Pour the wine around the pork chops.  Bring the wine to a boil.  Top each of the chops with a slice of provolone cheese.

Place the skillet on the center rack of your oven.  Cook for another 10-15 minutes, until the pork chops reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees F.  Let the pork chops rest for five minutes before serving.

The Essential Tools for this Dish:
A 15" Cast Iron Skillet
A Meat Thermometer

Shared on Meal Plan Monday.

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Lemon-Lime Cupcakes

These lemon-lime cupcakes are one of my favorites cupcake treats.  I love them any time of year, but the lemon-lime flavor is especially perfect for spring.  The cupcakes have a subtle lemon-lime flavor from both lemon zest and lime zest and a little added juice from the lemon and lime.  You can add a little more juice, if you prefer, but I like the hint of citrus flavor.

Lemon-Lime Cupcakes with Lemon-Lime Cream Cheese Frosting

Lemon-Lime Cupcakes

The cream cheese frosting is speckled with both lemon and lime zest and flavored with a little more juice from the lemon and lime.  I like to taste the frosting to achieve the level of citrus flavor I want. One teaspoon of each juice is a good place to start.
Lemon-Lime Cupcakes

I've made these cupcakes as both traditional sized cupcakes and as minis.  Both sizes work well. You'll find the cake to be moist and dense.  This is a cupcake with substance.  They freeze very well. After making a batch of the cupcakes, decorate them with the frosting and them freeze them on a sheet pan. Once frozen, wrap them individually with plastic wrap and package them in a zip closure freezer bag. They will keep beautifully.

Let's make these cupcakes, shall we?

Lemon Lime Cupcakes

Print Recipe
Lemon-lime Cupcake Ingredients
Lemon-Lime Cupcake Ingredients
Makes one dozen cupcakes
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • zest of one lemon
  • zest of one lime
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Line the muffin pan with cupcake liners.

In the bowl of your mixer add the vegetable oil, sugar, salt, and lemon and lime zests.  Mix about two minutes on medium-high speed.  Beat in the lemon and lime juices, and the eggs, one at a time.  Beat for about two more minutes.

In a separate bowl whisk together the flours and the baking powder.  Add the flour mixture to the liquid mixture alternating the flour and milk, ending with the flour.  Mix until blended, about thirty seconds.

Using a scoop to keep your cupcakes consistent in size, scoop the batter into the prepared pan.  The batter will be thin. You'll fill each cup about 2/3 full.

Use and Ice Cream Scoop
Use a Scoop for Consistency
Bake for 16-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.  This took 16 minutes in my oven.  These cupcakes will not brown, so don't use sight as a measure of doneness.

The Baked Lemon-Lime Cupcakes
The Baked Lemon-Lime Cupcakes
Cool completely and top with lemon-lime cream cheese frosting.

Lemon-Lime Cream Cheese Frosting

Lemon-Lime Frosting Ingredients
Frosting Ingredients
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 package of cream cheese
  • 3/4 pound confectioners sugar (3 1/2 cups)
  • the zest of one lemon
  • the zest of one lime
  • 1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lime juice

Blend the butter and cream cheese together until well blended.  Add the lemon and lime zest.  Add the confectioners sugar and the lemon and lime juice.  Mix together until smooth and well blended.

Fill a pastry bag with a large decorative tip 2/3 full with frosting.  I use a large glass to stabilize the pastry bag as I fill it.

Using a Pastry Bag Makes Frosting Easy
Using a Pastry Bag Makes Frosting Easy
Pipe the frosting on the cupcakes.  If you find the frosting to be a little soft, pop the cupcakes into the refrigerator or freezer for a few minutes.

Lemon-Lime Cupcakes for a Party
Lemon-Lime Cupcakes Ready for a Party
Shared on Meal Plan Monday.

You might like these other lemon recipes:
Lemon Yogurt Cake
Oh, Lemon Curd!
Lemon Pudding Cakes


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Easy Stove-Top Shrimp and Pasta

Frozen shrimp is always on hand in my freezer because it is the perfect protein to reach for when you want a quick and easy dinner that seems a little special.   This Stove-top Shrimp and Pasta dish is just one of the quick, easy, and special dinners.  For this stove-top shrimp and pasta dinner, I used frozen, uncooked, cleaned, and shelled shrimp.  All the prep I needed to do was count the number of shrimp to defrost.

A Quick, Easy, Delicious Weeknight Dinner 

Stove-top Shrimp and Pasta

When I say this is easy, I mean E-A-S-Y.  Really, friends, I promise.  This meal is so easy you won't believe it. It is so easy you could even cook it on a hot plate!

You can use any size shrimp you prefer.  I usually buy the 16-20 or the 21-25 sizes of shrimp whenever they are on sale.  If you can get them cleaned and shelled, even better.  That will cut down the amount of prep work you will need to do making this dish even easier for a weeknight meal.
Quick and Easy Stove-Top Shrimp and Pasta

As you read the recipe you'll see that you only cook your pasta for half the time recommended on the package.  That's because the pasta will finish cooking in the sauce.  As the pasta finishes cooking in the sauce, it absorbs the flavors from the tomatoes, wine, and seasonings.  I like linguine for this recipe, but any kind of pasta you like will work well.

Add some freshly grated Parmesan cheese, chopped parsley and chopped basil at the end for garnish. Yum!

Easy Stove-Top Shrimp and Pasta

Print Recipe
Shrimp and pasta ingredients
Shrimp and Pasta Ingredients
Serves 4
  • 1 pound linguine
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 3 large cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 pound shrimp, cleaned and shelled
  • grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish
  • chopped fresh parsley for garnish
  • Fresh chopped basil for garnish

Measure out all your ingredients and have them ready by the stove.  This meal comes together very quickly so everything must be ready to go ahead of time.  Cook your pasta in salted water for half the time directed on the package.

Start making the sauce when you put your pasta in the water to begin cooking.  Put the olive oil in a large skillet (with a cover) over medium heat.  Add the crushed red pepper and garlic.  Cook for one minute, watching to be careful the garlic doesn't brown.

Make a Quick Tomato Sauce
Simmer the Garlic, White Wine, Tomatoes, and Parsley

Add the white wine and cook for one minute more.  Add the diced tomatoes, salt, black pepper and chopped parsley.  Cook together, uncovered, until the pasta is done (half the time on the package).   Drain the pasta.  Add the shrimp to the pan with the sauce and simmer for one minute.

Add the Shrimp to the Sauce
Cook the Shrimp in the Sauce

 Then add the pasta to the pan, right on top of the shrimp.

Finish Cooking Pasta in the Pan
Finish Cooking the Pasta in the Sauce

Cover the pan.  Let the sauce, shrimp and pasta simmer together for 2 minutes.  Stir the pasta, sauce, and shrimp and continue simmering for 8 more minutes with the cover on the pan.  All the goodness of the shrimp and sauce will be absorbed in the final minutes of cooking the pasta, adding to the overall yumminess of this dish.

Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.

Would you like to try a different shrimp and pasta recipe?  Try Linguine and Shrimp Scampi.  It is just as easy and delicious as stove top shrimp and pasta.

Shared on Meal Plan Monday. 

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Monday, May 8, 2017

How to Kill Ants in Your Home

The ants have started their annual ritual of torturing me. It seems that as soon as the spring showers come, the ants show up in my house. This is one of the ways I battle them.

An Effective, Homemade Ant Bait

How to Kill Ants in Your Home

Do you have to do battle with ants in your home?  Do you feel as frustrated as I do when facing this yearly ritual?  The ants are back.  Yes, I'm very unhappy to report that the annual ant battle is underway in my home.   I have ants coming out of the woodwork. Literally, ants are coming out of the woodwork!  I saw a few little ants gathering around a speck on the floor.  When there is one, there are many.  Oh no!

Ant Sighting
Ant Sighting!
Let the battle begin!  What concerns me most about the battle of the ants is the questionable safety of the arsenal of weapons we have at our disposal.  I've used ant sprays, ant traps, and exterminators.  None of them have been particularly successful.  I am also uncomfortable about frequent applications of insecticides and potential impacts to family members and our dog.  Frustrated and at wit's end a few years ago, I searched to find a safer, more effective solution.  I found one that worked well for me, so I want to share it with you.  I'm using this effective, homemade ant bait.
How to Kill Ants

Ant bait works by attracting the worker ants to the bait.  The ants feed on it, then carry it back to the colony to feed the growing ants.  This effectively eliminates the colony.  This works better than just spraying the worker ants with insecticide.  That just kills the ants but doesn't kill off the colony. Making homemade ant bait is easy.  All you need is borax, sugar, and water.  Be sure to follow the directions below and you'll be all set.

Homemade Ant Bait
Making Homemade Ant Bait Is Easy
Mix together 2 cups of warm water, ten teaspoons of sugar, and 1 teaspoon of Borax.  Stir the mixture until all of the sugar and borax crystals dissolve.  You may need to heat the mixture a bit in the microwave to aid the dissolving process, but it really doesn't take very long.  Set the mixture aside to cool.

You'll also need appropriate containers to hold the liquid bait.  I use the lids from plastic deli containers like the one in the picture above.  They are very shallow and provide easy access for the ants.  I've tried many alternatives but always come back to these shallow, flat lids.  The only drawback is that there is no cover to conceal the bait.  If you have pets or young children you'll need to be careful that they can't access the bait in these lids.

Next, you'll need self-control and patience.  Please don't underestimate the importance of both self-control and patience. First, let's address the self-control.  What is the first thing you want to do when you see an ant in your home?  You want to squash it, don't you?  You want to reach for that can of ant spray and kill every ant you see, don't you?  Well, this is where the self-control comes in.  You really must let them be.  The ant bait won't work unless the ants feed on it and take it back to the colony.  So, the best thing you can do is take a breath and put out the homemade ant bait.  Put it right where you see the ants.  You want them to find it quickly and easily.  The faster they find the bait, the sooner your ant problem is O-V-E-R!

Ants Will Find the Bait
The Ants Have Found The Bait
Within an hour of setting out the bait, the ants had begun to find it.  See them lining up along the edge of the lid?  See how there are more are there than I originally spied on the floor?  Remember, where there is one, there are many.

Now let's talk about patience.  Unfortunately, this ant killing solution takes a bit of time.  Depending on the size of your ant problem, you may find yourself refilling your bait trays over and over again.  As long as you see the ants coming to your bait you must keep providing a fresh quantity of solution. Yes, friends, this is not a quick fix.  In my experience, it could take up to a few weeks before you are confident the ants are gone.  In the meantime, you will get satisfaction in seeing the ants coming willingly to the trough.

Ants at the Bait Trough
It's An Ant Party!

Here's a picture of the morning after I set out the bait.  I actually needed to add more bait.  Some evaporated overnight, but the ants have sent the word out to all their little ant friends to come to the feeding party.   This battle is going very well.   I am satisfied... and patient.

Be sure to keep your ant bait solution in a well marked, covered container away from pets and children.  The solution is very sweet (with ten teaspoons of sugar) so pets and children may find it attractive to sample.  I store mine in a well-marked, recycled deli container or a mason jar on a high shelf with my cleaning products.

With patience, self-control, borax, sugar, and water you, too, can be ant free.  It's a beautiful thing!

This is how it looked after two weeks.
Two weeks later and all of the ants are gone!  This really works.

No More Ants!

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