Sunday, August 30, 2015

Vietnamese Beef and Basil Rolls

 One of our favorite things to do when we harvest our basil plants each year is to take the biggest leaves we can find and make these Grilled Beef and Basil Rolls, from Steve Raichlen's Barbecue Bible.  More on that in a minute.

Our 3 basil plants got out of control this year. I didn't pick much throughout the summer and by the time I was ready to make a big batch of pesto, well there was more basil than I knew what to do with. I actually just pulled the entire plants out of the ground and brought them in to clean and sort the leaves right in the sink.

For this recipe, the biggest leaves are the best, because they will shrivel up once they are grilled. You need about 60 leaves.

Here's my total stash, all cleaned and ready to be sorted out.

And here are the ones that made the final cut.

So Jeremy and I have a history with Steve Raichlen. When we first really got into grilling years ago, Steve Raichlen was our resource for everything. We (and by we, I mostly mean Jeremy) watched his show on Saturday mornings where he teaches the basics of smoking, meat cuts, marinades, and rubs, and then bought the Barbecue Bible which we turned to for all of our homemade grilling recipes. We came across this Vietnamese appetizer in the cookbook years ago and frequently crave it. The flavors are so earthy and unique because of the basil, but mainly because of one secret ingredient.

Here's what you need:

8 oz lean ground beef
2 cloves garlic
5 tsp. Asian fish sauce
1 T. sugar
1 t. freshly ground pepper
60 large basil leaves (give or take a few)
3 T. coarsely chopped dry - roasted peanuts (these are optional - just for garnish - we have always left them out).

Okay, now a word on the fish sauce. Don't be scared! It's not as bad as it sounds. And it is absolutely necessary to get the truly unique flavor of this dish. The fishy flavor is completely drowned out by the basil and beef. Trust me - it's worth it. If you have an Asian market near you, I would look there first. After looking for it in several grocery stores with no luck, I finally found it at Gerbes (also known as Kroger in the east and south). A little bit goes a long way, and as far as I can tell, it lasts for a really long time.

Start with a half pound of ground beef.

Add your garlic, pepper, and sugar.

And the fish oil. Mix it all up.

Until it's thoroughly combined.

Take a basil leaf and put a pinch of the beef mixture in the middle. There's no exact measurement, but you want the beef to be all tucked in (not sticking out of the ends). The bigger the leaf, the bigger the pinch.

And roll it up!

The skewers will help hold them closed.

Put 5-6 of the rolls on each skewer crosswise.

When you're ready to start grilling, put aluminum foil over the grate of the grill where the ends of the skewer will be. This will keep them from burning. Also, Steve Raichlin always recommends oiling the grate before grilling, but you definitely need to do so for this recipe. You don't want the rolls sticking to the grill.

Over medium high heat, cook the rolls for about 2 minutes and then turn them over and cook for another 2 minutes. Since they're so small, it doesn't take long.

This is what they look like when they're done. A crispy leaf texture on the outside, and the yummiest, spicy, chewy meatball on the inside. Oh my goodness. I could eat the whole tray.

You could take them off the skewer and eat them as a snack, but we like to serve them over rice for a meal. There are still plenty of leftovers to snack on later on. They are totally worth it - seriously! Try some soon!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Top Five

I meant to do a High Five for Friday post on Friday, but then Friday came and went, as did Saturday. So here are in no particular order are my 5 highlights from last week. 

1.) I spent the week opening new sharpie packets, carefully labeling binders, emailing parents, and attending beginning of the year meetings. I posted last year about how I love the way that the school year has a definite beginning and ending each year. It makes coming back in August a little more celebratory than just another day at work. I am so lucky to have a job that I absolutely love. It makes getting up at 5:00 AM so much easier.

2.) Kindergarten happened this week. If I were writing these in order of importance, of course this one would be the highest this past week. Lex started kindergarten. I was able to take him to school the first day, thanks to my wonderful colleagues who insisted that I did, and offered to cover my students if I didn't make it back in time ( I did). From now on, he will come to school with me in the morning and ride a bus from the middle school to the primary school with the other teachers' kids.

He was so excited that first day and so brave (summer school likely helped). There was only a split second when I saw a moment of worry in his eyes when I started to leave, but then he saw his best friend from preschool, Jack, and was fine.

I didn't cry either, although everyone kept asking me if I did. I really am sentimental, and I did recognize it as a milestone, but I knew he was ready which in turn meant I was ready. I was really happy and excited for him. I did think about him all day that day and was hoping that his teacher would send out a mid - day check in email to parents (I didn't actually expect her to do that - I was just hoping). Those kindergarten teachers are so amazing though. At the end of his day, his backpack was full of mementos from his day including a painted hand print of his. It was perfect.

Here he is in front of the school. 

Squinting because I have him faced directly towards the sun.

And here are both the boys in front of the house. Eli actually started preschool 2 weeks ago so I could start working in my classroom, but I still made him take lots of pictures in front of the house.

3.) Basil! I love, love, love, homemade pesto. I planted extra basil this year just to make sure I had plenty to make a giant batch of pesto to freeze. I haven't hardly picked any basil throughout the summer, so early last week when they started to go to seed, I pulled all three entire plants, brought them inside, and got busy making pesto. Look at how huge these plants were! In case your interested, here's the link to the pesto recipe that I use. Our freezer is now fully stocked with this year's supply of pesto.

4.) My current favorite blog is Amanda is a travel and food blogger. I'm not a huge fan of her recipes because most of them contain processed food (although I did make almost everything on her 4th of July recipes post). But I love her travel posts. She has spent her summer biking through France, traveling around Australia, and is currently in Bali. Her pictures are amazing - I can't get enough of her Instragram pictures. Seriously, go check it out if you want to find some good things to put on your bucket list.

5.) Friday! I love Fridays! It's my favorite day of the whole week. I love getting to wear jeans to school (it really is the little things in life, isn't it?). The boys and I also have some long standing Friday traditions throughout the school year. We always play Rebecca Black's "Friday" song while we eat breakfast. Cheesy, I know it  so gets us pumped up for the weekend. We often also stop at McDonalds before school to get coffee (for me) and juice (for the boys) to start our day. And we always take the scenic route home on Fridays. Even if it's just a short country drive to talk about our day.

So there's my top five. What are yours?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

North Carolina Vacation Part 2

After we made our rounds of visits to family and friends in the inland portion of North Carolina, we drove about 3 hours to meet up with my brother and his family to catch a ferry to the outer banks. My sister in law did her research and found this great deal through Cape Lookout National Seashore Park.  This was a new experience for all of us, so we didn't know what to expect. The drive through all the coastal towns to get to our ferry was gorgeous. Since it was the boys' first time seeing the ocean, it was a really fun drive.

Before the trip, I had asked around to find out what to expect with the ferry but this sure wasn't what we were prepared for. We had to drive until the road basically ended - I mean this place was out there. And this was the ferry service (see picture below). Nobody was even there when we arrived an hour early. Some people at the restaurant across the parking lot (which was the extent of the population as far as the eye could see) told us not to expect anyone until right before departure. Basically, the guy who checks you in, also helps load your bags, then climbs on the ferry and drives you to the island. It was a great experience. And I'm not being sarcastic. It was a totally laid back, go with the flow, talk to everyone you see, kind of atmosphere.

We browsed around while we were waiting to check into the ferry. They had this map of the outer banks.

And our first shot of the ocean. What a beautiful day. Off to the right there, if you look really carefully, you can see our island, Long Point.

And here are the boys all loaded on the Donza Lee. We shared the ferry with less than 20 other people and three cars. That was it. Not a big deal at all.

Here are the boys with a front row view of the ferry. 

That  building you see in the picture below is the "restaurant" I referred to.

 And finally we were off. Here is our view looking out the back of the ferry towards the mainland.

 Here's my niece putting on a "puppet show" from the boat's cabin on the 35 minute ride. There were so few people and really no one "looking over" us. It was a fun ride catching up with brother and sister in law.

And then our cabins were in sight! Actually, these were the smaller cabins. You'll see our actual cabin later in the post. But seriously, what you see is basically it on this island. There are no roads, no stores, nothing. It is a true vacation spot. You come here to do nothing.

Below is the view from our cabin. As in, you take 2 steps out the door, look left and this is it. Or you can just look out any of the many windows in the cabin. Oh my goodness.

And just below our cabin was a shady spot for the kids to play in the sand. There were seashells everywhere! 

For the three days we spent on the beach, basically every time we went to the ocean to play, this was the view on the beach. No one! A couple of times, there were other people, but there are so few people staying on such a massive beach that you never have to compete for space. Not even close.

Here's Jeremy and the boys getting used to the water.

And for the record, this was our view if you walked out of our cabin and looked right. Yep. Ocean front views on both sides. And less than a minute to the beach in both directions.

Another shot from the cabin.

And another.

And look at our little friend! Can you see him? You have to look carefully because he blends in so well. These things were all over under our cabin and as soon as the sun started to set, they all came out to play. All we had to do was shine a flashlight on them and they would scramble back into their whole.

The next morning, we set our alarms for 6:00 AM so we could watch the sunrise at 6:12. I've never seen the sun rise or set over the ocean but it was so beautiful and such an amazing way to start the day.

So this was our schedule on day 2. Wake up, eat breakfast, hit the beach, come back to cabin, hit the beach, eat lunch, hit the beach, play cards, hit the beach, supper, hit the beach, play more cards. My perfect day. Once again, here was our view from our spot on the beach. Apparently, not many people come here to actually play in the ocean.

And the other direction. Not a sole in sight.

We did all the things one does on the beach. We played in the sand, collected seashells, and buried the kids. 

Getting buried was probably Lex's favorite activity on the beach. 

And the kids played pirates. Here's Eli and my cute niece, Clara. That's our cabin in the background.

 Each of these 2 cabins is split in half, so technically, there are 4 families in each of these double units. You share 2 staircases to the beach and one picnic table for outdoor eating.Thankfully, we never had a problem getting the picnic table when we needed it. There are also 2 outdoor grills, a fish cleaning station, and an outdoor hose to wash off the sand. Each unit also has an outdoor clothesline, air conditioning, a kitchen with a stove (but no fridge) and a bathroom (with plenty of hot water, but a tiny shower). They are pretty primitive, but that actually fits our style pretty well. The isolated beach and views were worth every primitive minute.

 Lex admiring the view

And both boys catching some waves. There were nothing but smiles every minute they were in the water. They are seriously the best travelers. They played hard and slept hard. We all did. It was an amazing three days.

 The final day at the ocean, we packed up, collected a few more seashells, and shook off as much sand as could, before we loaded the ferry for our ride back to the mainland. Here's one last family picture. 

And one last view of our cabin. Seriously, we will be back.

And one last thing... We recently had a horrible experience at a local seafood restaurant, and my final request while we were close to the ocean was some amazing seafood. So Jeremy asked the guy who ran the ferry (you know...the one who checked us in, loaded our stuff, etc. etc.) and he recommended a place in Morehead City, right on our way home, called the Ruddy Duck. It was right on the water, and all of our food were amazing! And I finally had some delicious scallops which are hard to come by in our area.

I loved this sign when you came in. We ordered the nachos for an appetizer and trust me... the pico was amazing.

This was on the boardwalk right outside the restaurant.

And one more shot.

 Right across the street was an adorable little gift shop where I bought some souvenir jewelry for a very reasonable price and browsed around with the boys before we headed to my brother's house for one more night of our North Carolina vacation before our long drive home.

And I have to say it because I don't have a picture... our final stop on this trip was a hotel in Lexington, KY, just over halfway home. They had the biggest swimming pool I've ever seen in a hotel, and while we were there, Lex learned to swim! Just 2 days before his 6th birthday. We didn't even help him...I just looked over and he was swimming. Just like does everything else, he did it when he was good and ready. It was the icing on the cake to a great vacation.