Sunday, June 22, 2014

Potluck BBQ

Today, we had a potluck BBQ. We provided regular-sized hamburgers, sliders, hotdogs, brats, chips, pretzels, and a variety of beverages. And everyone else brought what they wanted to. Remember one of my very first blogs where I mentioned that you're taking a chance when people don't sign up ahead of time for what to bring, or when you don't assign a category such as salads or desserts. Well, I'm always up for taking a culinary risk, so didn't have anyone organize what to bring. And it worked perfectly with a wonderful balance and variety of foods.

In addition to the hamburgers and hot dogs, I made a big platter of tomatoes, onions, lettuce, bell peppers, and cheese and included catsup, mustard, mayonnaise, pickles, and sauerkraut. Someone brought a delicious salad made with kale, carrots, cherry tomatoes, and I don't know what else, but it was colorful and delicious. And someone else brought a cucumber salad which was gorgeous and delicious too. Then there were the dilly beans - dilled green beans - that were so good! We had a baked brie covered with apricot spread and wrapped in pastry - yummy!

For some healthy desserts, we had fresh pineapple, fresh cherries, and fresh strawberries. For more decadent foods, we had a blackberry cobbler, strawberry cheesecake, and a 5 layer chocolate cake. It was Yvonne's birthday and we had to light the candles 4 times before they stayed lit enough for her to make a wish and blow them out.

So, there were no duplications, and everything was delicious and went well together. The weather also cooperated - sunny, in the 70s with a light breeze. Our deck was partly sunny and partly shady, so everyone could sit in the sun or shade. And the company was fun and interesting, lubricated with wine, champagne, pop, and water. Perfect day after the Solstice!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Casino Buffets

Although it has been a few years since I've eaten in a casino buffet (last few times were in Las Vegas), I've eaten in a few in Minnesota and Washington in the last couple of months. Because the buffets were in casinos, one big problem for me was that you had to make your way through the smoky casino floor to get to the restaurants. And a couple were so close to the action, that they were slightly smoky inside the restaurant.

So I was pleasantly surprised at the buffet in Snoqualmie Casino in Snoqualmie, WA. When I entered the casino from the parking garage elevator, the first thing I noticed was that the smoke smell was pretty faint - not at all overwhelming. The smoking section was at the ballroom end of the casino gaming floor and the restaurants were at the opposite end. So, it was very easy to find the buffet and eat there as well as play some of the machines without getting overcome by smoke. A definite plus!

One end of the restaurant was banked with windows overlooking the mountains and valleys of the Cascades - beautiful. Chairs and tables were comfortable and not too close to each other. And the servers were attentive, refilled our beverages frequently and made sure we had whatever we needed.

The food was very good - none of us got something that we didn't like which is unusual at a buffet. The salad bar had items that were chilled and crisp, including some items not usually found - alfalfa sprouts, radishes, walnuts - and 9 salad dressings in addition to raspberry vinaigrette, balsamic vinaigrette, and oil and vinegar. Plus they offered the usual additional items such as Caesar salad, coleslaw, potator salad, cottage cheese, fruits, and soups.

For hot offerings, there was an Asian section with Mongolian stir fry, chow mein, sukiyaki, teriyaki, sweet and sour pork, broccoli beef, fried rice, steamed rice, and a few other typical items. I had the chow mein; the vegetables were still a little crispy which I like and it had a nice sauce that wasn't overpowering. There was an Italian section with lasagne, spaghetti and meatballs, breadsticks, Italian pork chops, and pizza. The pizza was pretty good - not pizzeria-style, but not bad. Oh - and a large bowl full of roasted garlic - my husband would be in Heaven!

There was a fish and seafood section with cod, halibut, salmon, crab cakes, and calamari. I'm not much of a fish eater, so I skipped this section, but my companions said they were pleased with the food. There was also a meat-and-potatoes section with roasted turkey, turkey gravy, ham, mashed potatoes, potatoes au gratin, green beans, corn on the cob, sweet potatoes, teriyaki meatballs, fresh fruit, cheese, biscuits, and dinner rolls.

For dessert, there were cookies, bars, a chocolate fountain with strawberries and marshmallows, soft serve ice cream, and a variety of cakes and pies. I had a pina colada bar and a chocolate brownie, both of which were very good. My friends had the bread pudding, a berry crumble, cookies, bars - everything was pronounced very good. But, they didn't have any carrot cake, which is a particular favorite of a couple of us - just a minor disappointment as we were so stuffed anyway.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised at Snoqualmie Casino and would recommend the buffet. At lunch, it was only $10.95, so a very good deal for all you could - but probably shouldn't - eat.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Fantastic Raisin Bran Apple Muffins

Have you ever lost your mind and bought a commercially prepared high fiber bran muffin? I have - and I'm always sorry. They're usually way too sweet and have a greasy or oily aftertaste. And with so many chemical stabilizers and such, I think a lot of the "healthy" benefits disappear.

When I was on my retirement vacation up north Minnesota, friend Nita made some fabulous muffins made from Raisin Bran cereal - they were so delicious, not too sweet, no aftertaste, and made us feel good and virtuous eating them.

This is my version of Nita's muffins - there are a few differences, but you end up with delicious and similar results.

Raisin Bran Apple Muffins
Makes 12 regular sized muffins

1/3 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup applesauce
1 cup milk
1 cup plain yogurt
1 carrot, grated
1 tart apple, peeled, cored, and finely diced
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 cups Raisin Bran cereal
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup Craisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

  1. Prepare muffin pans by greasing each cup or using paper muffin liners;  set aside
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  3. In a large bowl, beat oil and sugar together until the sugar is completely dissolved
  4. Add egg, applesauce, milk, and yogurt and mix until well-combined
  5. Fold in the grated carrot and diced apple
  6. In a small separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and cinnamon and mix well; add this dry mixture to the wet mixture and mix well
  7. Fold in the Raisin Bran cereal and mix well
  8. Add in any or all of the optional ingredients
  9. Bake in prepared muffin tins at 400 degrees for 18-20 minutes; cool in pan for 10 minutes
If you make these muffins according to the recipe above with no optional ingredients, each muffin has 288 calories, 50 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams fat, 6 grams protein, and 3 grams fiber.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Chicken Salad and Alpacas

I spent this past Saturday with a few people for a "Forever - Whatever" party. It's a session devoted to those projects (knitting, crocheting, cross stitching, etc.) that have hung around "forever" and need to be worked on. We met at an Alpaca Ranch - the owner has more than 2 dozen alpacas, most of them are rescues. She also has a shop there, selling alpaca fleece and yarns. The alpacas had just been shorn, so they looked crazy skinny, and were enjoying the beautiful mid-70s sunny weather. She turned on a sprinkler and they played in it like little children. It made me want to run through a sprinkler too!

Anyway, it was a beautiful June afternoon in the Pacific Northwest - sunny, warm, a little breeze. I made a cold chicken salad to share with everyone. It is my World Famous Chicken Salad - so easy, so versatile, and so yummy! I always get requests to bring it for parties and potlucks. Here's the recipe:

Cindy's World Famous Chicken Salad
1 or 2 chicken breasts
2/3 cup chicken broth
7 ounce box Creamette macaroni salad rings *
2 stalks celery
1 cup mayonnaise **
2/3 cup Miracle Whip salad dressing **
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 - 3 hard boiled eggs

*   I import my pasta rings from Minnesota; if you can't find them, substitute any
     tiny macaroni, such as tiny shells, bow ties, etc.
** I like this combination of mayonnaise and salad dressing; if you prefer, you can use all 
     mayonnaise, all salad dressing, or mix it in whatever proportions you prefer

Chopped seedless grapes
Chopped apples
Chopped pecans or walnuts
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
2 -3 radishes, sliced thinly
1 green, red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, seeded and diced

  1. Poach the chicken breasts in chicken broth
  2. Remove chicken skin and bones, if any and discard; shred chicken and refrigerate to cool
  3. Prepare the macaroni according to directions; drain and rinse under cold water; place in large bowl and refrigerate to cool
  4. Dice the celery and combine in large bowl with shredded chicken and macaroni rings
  5. Fold in mayonnaise, Miracle Whip, and white pepper
  6. Fold in chopped hard boiled eggs
  7. Fold in any of the optional ingredients, if desired
This salad is especially good served with cantaloupe, watermelon, or red ripe tomatoes

Retirement Vacation

I'm sorry for not posting the last couple of weeks. Besides forgetting to alert you all, I packed wrongly for my trip - way too many warm clothes, anticipating cold weather. Which didn't occur. I retired 4 months ago and so was in desperate need for a vacation. Retirement is HARD! Well, okay, that's not really the story, but it did catch your attention, didn't it? I did go on a vacation and it was fabulous.

I started out with a trip on Amtrak from Tacoma to St. Paul, Minnesota. I almost always travel in a sleeping compartment, so even though my train there was 6 hours late (oil trains in North Dakota), I had a book and my knitting and I didn't care. The trip there was the beginning of my vacation. The trip began about 1:30 PM on Thursday and I got to Minnesota about 11:00 Saturday morning. Lovely and so very relaxing. I always meet interesting people on the train too - it's part of the dining car experience.

First on my agenda was a slumber party with two of my oldest friends; seriously, we've known each other since we were 5-6 years old. They are part of the Fancy Five mentioned in earlier blog posts. We had lunch at Tucci Benucchi at the Mall of America; my spaghetti bolognese was delicious. It was rich, meaty, creamy, and made with fresh basil and oregano. They finished it with thin shavings of parmesan cheese. My friends had baked spaghetti and pronounced it delicious as well, with a very thick and slightly chunky tomato sauce. We spent the afternoon and evening and into the wee hours talking and talking. We never run out of things to talk about! It was so good to spend some time with them.

The next thing was to spend some time with my sister Nancy. As we sat on her sun porch chatting, I re-bonded with her doggies. And we ate Ol' Piper Pizza. It's not the best pizza in the world, but it is good and it's traditional in our family. We've been eating Ol' Piper for decades; plus, they cut it into squares, which I contend makes the pizza taste better. We then stopped at Dairy Queen on the way to visit my niece, nephew-in-law, and my 2 great nephews. Not sure if they were more excited to see their grandma or the ice cream, but we had a lovely visit  and they are so adorable. Then it was on to another niece, nephew-in-law, and their newborn son. He is adorable and the new parents are so thrilled. He was a preemie and his birth created a compulsion in me to knit preemie and newborn baby caps. I've knit 27 so far and am still compelled. I gave him a couple and have donated the rest to our local hospital.

Nancy dropped me off at my other sister, Joyce's, house where I was FORCED to eat Ol' Piper pizza again.  Though I managed to eat several pieces, it was under protest - except I think I forgot to actually protest. I spent the night there and repacked a little for the next leg of my journey.

I was headed up north with some girlfriends from high school. I met one of them in second grade; she was also the one who introduced me to my husband on a blind date, so we all go way back. As an aside, in Minnesota, people say that they're going "up north," to "the lake," or to "the cabin." Only if someone asks specifically do Minnesotans say which city or lake they're referring to. It is an odd thing, but is typically Minnesotan.

We stayed in friend Nita's hunting lodge - a log cabin lodge. We stayed on the main floor that had a living room, dining area, kitchen, bathroom, and 2 big bedrooms. There were 6 of us, 3 beds in each bedroom, and luckily, 3 of us like freezing cold rooms and the other 3 like warm rooms to sleep in, so it worked out perfectly. During the week, we talked, shopped, talked, ate, talked, had a pontoon ride, talked, and played Dominoes (specifically, Mexican Train Chicken Foot) until the wee hours of the morning. It was a new game for most of us and we quickly got hooked. Minnesota was beautiful - sunny, 72 degrees, 40 degrees overnight, and too early for mosquitos, the state bird. Our timing was perfect. I had some excellent food with wild rice - one was a chilled salad with wild rice, craisins, apples, celery, pecans, and a light dressing. As soon as I recreate the dressing, I'll post the recipe here. I'll also post a recipe for cranberry wild rice bread which was also delicious - I had that for a roast turkey sandwich - was perfect.

After returning from up north, I stayed with sister Joyce and got to see my other niece and nephew, both home from school. So, all together, I saw ALL of my nieces, nephews, and grand nephews except for one, who lives in Oklahoma. Molly - come home!!!!! Plus, my brother John stopped by for dinner and a boat ride; it was good to get caught up with him too. And to continue my perfect timing, my sister and her husband bought a new pontoon and had it delivered the day I was there, so we all got a ride on the new boat. My brother-in-law got a humongous motor for the pontoon - Until then, I had not known that a pontoon could go 30 mph! We had a gorgeous sunset cruise.

The next day, we slept in, showered, lazed around, played with their dogs, and drank a lot of coffee on the porch overlooking the lake. Then Joyce drove me to the Amtrak station. There's a Greek restaurant there, which has gotten very good reviews, so I had dinner there. Excellent pork chops (that made the edges of my lips tingle), pita bread, rice pilaf, and excellent merlot. I got on Amtrak, tucked myself into bed, and had a very lovely ride back home. We were on time coming back, which is too bad - I wanted to extend my trip - but I was so happy to see Randy again. When I got home, my cats sniffed me and then went back to their napping.

Recipes from this trip to follow in future posts . . .