August 2012

Hi! I am Gretchen’s mom, and very excited to be posting on The Food Driven Life.
Happily, Gretchen and John left the heat of Texas for the warmth of Northern Wisconsin this past weekend. One of our other daughters Bente and her boyfriend Judd traveled from Milwaukee and we all  spent one of the last beautiful weekends of the summer at the cabin.  We enjoyed lazing around on the dock in between bursts of physical activity.  We read, napped, skied, kayaked, talked- while the weekend flew past the days seemed long and lazy.

The best part of family get-togethers is the planning and preparation of what we are going to eat next.  Since we are all in relax-mode the goal is to keep things simple. So here is an easy dinner to put together in between a day full of activity.

We started the evening with a surprise appetizer.  My friend Debbie made this amazing mixture and gave it to us with a bottle of wine just as we were heading out for a pontoon cruise.  What a great addition to a boat ride!  I don’t have a picture for two reasons, 1) I didn’t make it, and 2) we ate it too fast.  Thanks Debbie!  (Debbie throws the best parties with the most fantastic food- and she ALWAYS shares her recipes!  Don’t you love friends like that?)

Avocado Dip

  • 2-3 avocados, diced
  • 4 oz. feta, crumbled
  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • clove garlic, minced
  • TBS. minced cilantro (use TBS of parsley if you don’t like cilantro-I have heard there are people like that out there but I don’t believe it)
  • 1/2 tsp. oregano
  • TBS olive oil
  • 1/2 squeezed fresh lime

You might want to double the recipe- it’s that good. 

For an easy dinner we marinated boneless chicken breasts to grill.  Everyone always likes chicken and any leftovers are welcome.  The marinade makes the chicken juicy and full of flavor.

Chicken Marinade
  • 3 TBS. soy sauce (use Tamari sauce for gluten-free)
  • 1 TBS. honey
  • 1 TBS. oil
  • 1 tsp. lime juice
  • 1 tsp. garlic minced
Marinate 4 chicken breast at least a couple of hours or overnight.  Grill 6 to 8 minutes a side- Don’t overcook! Chicken is best when the juices still run. 
For an easy side dish we had Smashed Potatoes
Pick out some nice small red or white potatoes from your Farmer’s Market (Isn’t the Farmer’s Market just the best? I marvel at the selection and perfection the vendors offer!)
Drizzle a little olive oil on potatoes and roast in oven at 375 on cookie sheet until fork tender
Using another cookie sheet gently smash the potatoes by pushing down on them
Drizzle again with a little olive oil. Sprinkle with your choice of herbs- I like rosemary.  Add a little garlic and some grated parmesan cheese. Put back in the oven for another 15-20 minutes until heated through.
Along with this we had a wedge salad- what could be easier? We sprinkled the wedge with diced bacon, blue cheese, and chopped tomato.  Gretchen made a homemade ranch dressing (John’s favorite), but any dressing would do.
Homemade Buttermilk Ranch Dressing (Modified from The Pioneer Woman)
  • 1 cup Light Mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup Light Sour Cream
  • ~1/2 cup Buttermilk (I believe I added a bit more to reach a thinner consistency)
  • 1/4 cup Italian Flat-leaf Parsley
  • 1-2 TBS. Fresh Chives
  • 2 TBS. Fresh Dill 
  • 1/2 tsp. White Vinegar
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire
  • 1/4 tsp. Paprika
  • 1/8 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. Fresh Black Pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. Kosher Salt
  • Dash Tabasco
Whisk all ingredients to combine, adding more/less buttermilk to reach the desired consistency.
Dinner was great, easy to put together and we all had fun working together.  Great job on the grill, guys!
Finally, to celebrate Gretchen and John’s first year together, we indulged in a Braley Wedding Cake from 2510 (the B is slightly smudged due to our dog smashing the box on the way up).
One last weekend before summer truly fades into fall- so ends another summer filled with memories and good food!

We ran out of Baked Donuts at the house this weekend, so I had to make this on Sunday.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cream Pie with a Graham Cracker crust. If you like all of those items and do not shy away from insanely rich desserts, you will be a fan of this one. If you’re one of those people that says ‘that’s too rich’ (and you know who you are), I suggest you wait until I post something like lemon cake.


Graham Cracker Crust

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons melted butter


  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup corn starch
  • Dash salt
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 4 beaten egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix all the ingredients for the crust in a bowl, then press into a 9 inch pie pan. Bake for 7-8 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool.

In a large saucepan, mix the sugar, cocoa, corn starch, and salt. Over medium-high heat, slowly whisk in all the milk. Bring to a low boil, stirring constantly, and continue to boil for about 2 minutes. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks. Slowly whisk the chocolate mixture into the eggs, stirring constantly so the egg yolks don’t cook. Return the mixture to the saucepan and return to a boil. Using a fine sieve, pour the mixture back into the bowl, straining out any clumps. Add in the vanilla and butter, stirring until completely melted. Pour the cream mixture into the crust. Melt the peanut butter, and then pour over the chocolate cream in a thin stream. Use a toothpick to make it all pretty if you desire. Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pie, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours until completely set.
There are a million reasons why baked donuts are a good idea. They are healthier. You don’t risk burning your face/fingers off during the frying process. They are easier. But honestly, this is the reason I baked donuts this weekend:
!!! How fun is that pan??? We were out shopping for furniture and other legitimate home items when we stumbled upon this donut pan at Crate and Barrel.  I love that store. And this pan. Talk about a good day.
I really love donuts. In high school someone would bring donuts every Friday for homeroom, and I often wonder why no one has implemented that same policy at work.  Perhaps I could lead the charge, being the woman of progress and change that I am.
Anyway, baked donuts. These will not disappoint. They have the exact same flavor of your typical cake donut, but are so much easier to prepare. Oh and they are healthier too, I suppose.
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and grease your brand new donut pan. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg and salt in a bowl. Beat the eggs in the bowl of a standing mixer, then add the buttermilk, vanilla, and melted butter. Mix in the dry ingredients, and stir just until combined.  I can confirm that this is very, very tasty batter.  Pour the batter into the donut pan until about 3/4 full, and bake for about 8-10 minutes, until the donut springs back when poked.
I love a chocolate glaze, but these would also be delicious dipped in butter, cinnamon, and sugar, or powdered sugar.
Chocolate Glaze
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3-4 tablespoons milk
Mix all the ingredients together with a fork, then dip the tops of the cooled donuts into the glaze (this is the easiest way to evenly coat).  Eat and enjoy!

There’s not much to this recipe, the title says it all. As a side dish last week I grilled sliced onions and mushrooms in foil, with plenty of red wine (Castle Rock Pinot Noir), and salt and pepper. I heated the grill to medium-high and grilled for about 30 minutes or so, until the onions were nice and tender. If you want the onions a bit charred, you could throw them directly on the grates for a few minutes before serving.
My postings have been sparse and lackluster lately, I know. But it is too hot here to do much cooking – I have turned into a lazy sloth. Plus last Sunday John and I wanted to try Rockfish, a casual and fun seafood place that we are forcing ourselves to get into after we got kicked out of our favorite Fish City restaurant on Henderson. We didn’t really get kicked out, they closed. But it sure feels like rejection to me. Anyway, double thumbs up to Rockfish – we’ll definitely be going back for the po’ boys and gumbo.
One word might come to mind when you think of grilled flank steak: ‘Why?’
Trust me, I had the same feeling, as my husband suggested it for dinner week after week. It just seems sort of lame. Of course, anything that is incredibly cheap, lean, and easy to prepare seems like a waste of time to me. But then I make something like this, a real winner, and I leave the kitchen feeling like I really accomplished something – an economical and effortless meal I could make for our future family of 8 while my husband picks everyone up from soccer practice. Just kidding, we would put them in gymnastics.

I think flank steak has to be marinated. It’s a very lean meat and highly benefits from the marinating process, giving it lots of juicy flavor. I’m in love with this marinade – you might see it on my next 6 posts. On chicken, on pork, on pizza, on ribs. I guess that’s just 4.

I marinated the steak overnight, but I think you could get away with just a few hours. I also made mini slits on the top of the steak to help the flavor really get in there.


  • 1 lb flank steak (serves 3-4)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • couple dashes Worcestershire
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Mix all the marinade ingredients in a large ziploc bag, add the steak, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Heat your grill to high (450-500 degrees). I ran into a loooot of problems here. Texas is hot right now. So hot that I think grilling season might actually be over for the summer. I heated our grill to MEDIUM, and it was at 550 degrees within 3 minutes. It made our steak just a little more done than we would have liked (flank steak is best medium rare – ours turned out medium), but if you don’t live in Texas this shouldn’t be a problem.

Remove the steak from the marinade, and sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper. This will help form a nice crust on the steak. Grill the steak for about 4-5 minutes on each side, then remove and tent with foil for about 5 minutes before slicing. The next step is very important.

SLICE THE STEAK CROSSWISE AND AT A SLIGHT ANGLE IN VERY, VERY THIN PIECES.  If you don’t, you run the risk of my husband running into your kitchen and crying, ‘What are you doing??!!’ like you are burning down the house or something. I actually may have been better off burning down the house. I had no idea such rules applied to flank steak, so I am warning you ahead of time to save you from any future ridicule. I gladly handed over the knife to my husband for a ‘proper slicing,’ and I can even admit that his was better. It tastes good thin like that. Enjoy!

S’More Brownie Trifle

I have been a bad blogger lately. I should be nominated for ‘worst blogs of 2012.’ Actually, I would be thrilled with that honor. Any sort of recognition at all would be flattering.
I have an excuse though. I have been in Singapore for a week and a half, and I have been too jet lagged to brush my hair let alone cook since I’ve been back. However, I do have something from before my trip to share with you.
It turns out the Singaporeans are a very smart, very technical, very driven group of people.  By my third day of sitting in a room with them for 12 hours discussing the future of their fighter aircraft with no hint of slowing down, I was beginning to disengage a bit. My mind began to toggle between their avionics, and a S’More Brownie Trifle. In a jar. You don’t have to make them in a jar, of course, but if you have a jar I don’t know why you wouldn’t.
What you need:
  • Graham Cracker Crumbs
  • 1 jar Marshmallow Cream
  • 1-2 containers Cool Whip
  • 1 box Fudgy Brownie Mix, with required ingredients
  • Marshmallow
Start by making the brownies. I love boxed brownies. I really believe they are better than any homemade version. There. I said it.  Let them cool and then cut them into small squares. Next, mix the marshmallow cream with at least one container cool whip, – maybe more (I didn’t have more, but always welcome the idea of more cool whip) – with a hand mixer.  Take out your trifle-dish, preferably oven or microwave safe, and layer with marshmallow mixture, graham cracker crumbs, brownies, marshmallows, and repeat.  Top with more marshmallows. This recipe made about 6 jars.  Then, heat them up under the broiler or in the microwave. If I were into camping, I would bring all these ingredients with me to prepare and heat over a fire. But I’m not.