Saturday, May 3, 2008

Firing up the Grill at Homewood Suites

Yep, that's my sweet hubby manning the grill at our hotel. Poor guy can't get away from cooking even when he's on vacation. But he loves it and thought a cookout was the perfect solution to how to feed our crowd when I suggested it.

When you’re traveling with family, I’ve discovered it’s nearly impossible to get everyone to agree on what to do, let alone what to eat. In addition to our family of four, none of whom like to do the same things, we also added our grown daughter Melissa and her fiancĂ©e Doug. Then on Sunday night my father, step-mother and half-sister joined us at the hotel for a couple of days and an overnight.

By that point we had already eaten out at restaurants four nights so we were tired of that and ready to cook. We had two people who wouldn't eat red meat or pork, one who wouldn't eat carbs or fruit (fruit?) and two who don't like seafood. But the one thing everyone agreed on was a cookout.

Our suite at the hotel had a rudimentary kitchen with a two burner stove, fridge, microwave, sink and dishwasher. There was a nice set of pans, a set of three plastic nesting bowls with lids and dishes for four. The courtyard of Homewood Suites has several concrete tables and benches covered by trellises and there were two cast iron grills like they have in state parks out there too.

We decided to keep the meal simple. Steve went to the nearby Piggly Wiggly (a store whose name my Dad is positive wouldn't fly up north) and bought boneless chicken breasts and marinated them in a bottle of Italian salad dressing, He also picked up some hamburger for the boys who preferred a big juicy burger. In my tiny kitchen I made a tossed salad with the leftover produce I bought at the farmer’s market the day before and made our daughter Julie’s favorite pasta salad made with ranch dressing because even though it only has five ingredients, everyone seems to love it.

When I make this salad at home I usually make the Hidden Valley Ranch dressing out of the package, but to minimize the cooking time (and dirty dishes) so I could spend more time with my family, I used a bottle of ranch dressing instead – fewer ingredients to buy and really what could be simpler?

My step-mother, Ronnie, made a gorgeous fruit salad in a watermelon bowl in her tiny kitchen. We had quite a feast – and no leftovers! Afterwards most of the gang played basketball for an hour and then we all hung out around the pool in comfy lounge chairs talking while the kids swam and played in the hot tub.

It was Steve and Tommy’s favorite day of our vacation and we never even left the hotel. Unlike me who likes to obsessively carefully plan every minute, my guys sure know how to kick back and relax. They might be onto something, but it’s too late for me to change, as evidenced by the fact that I simply could not put a recipe in this blog that used bottled salad dressing. Oh, no, no, no.

Once I got home that innocent bottle of salad dressing mocked me with its simplicity and fake ingredients, and I even began to question why I use the packaged mix. So I did some experimenting and came up with my own recipe. If you happen to be camping or staying at a hotel (or just plain lazy, tired or short on time), feel free to use the bottle for ease. But from now on I’m going cold turkey on the prepared stuff and sticking with scratch because once you’ve tasted the real thing, the other just simply won’t do.

The Recipe:

Julie’s Favorite Pasta Salad

1 package of spiral pasta, cooked according to package directions
1 can of black olives, drained
1 container of grape tomatoes, washed and cut in half
1/2 cup red onion, diced
2 cups Ranch Dressing

Cook pasta and pour into strainer and rinse with cold water to cool. Let drain and then mix it in a bowl with olives, tomatoes and onions. Pour on the dressing and mix thoroughly.

Homemade Ranch Dressing

1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 small onion (or 1 teaspoon onion powder)
1 small clove garlic (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper

If you decide to use fresh onion and garlic, coursely chop them on a cutting board and then put in a mini-food processor and chop until very fine.

Put all ingredients in a bowl and briskly whisk until fully incorporated. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste.

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