Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Choice: Jalapeno Popper Sliders With Beans and Fall Fruit Crisp

There are LOTS of great things cooking in The Choice.

The story? Travis Parker is single. He lives in Beaufort, North Carolina, where he grew up. Gabby Holland, also single, has just moved in next door. Gabby has a boyfriend, Kevin, who lives in Morehead City. She also has a dog, Molly. When Molly ends up pregnant, Gabby is convinced that the father is Travis' boxer, Moby. Gabby confronts Travis with her suspicions, and Travis assures her that Moby is not the dog that knocked Molly up; and besides, she might not be pregnant, and maybe she should take her to the veterinarian to have her checked out. When Gabby takes Molly to the vet, she discovers two things: that the veterinarian is Travis, and that Molly is indeed pregnant. When the time comes for Molly to give birth, Travis is right there to help. Over the next few days, Travis offers advice and help for Molly and the puppies, and he invites her to join him and his friends one Saturday for a morning of parasailing, swimming, an picnicking on the beach. Reluctantly, she goes along.

Okay, let's pause it for a second. I've been to the beach many times, and many times I've seen boats go by towing a person and a parachute high in the sky behind it. I always say to myself, "That's insane. Why on earth would I ever want to tie myself to the back of a boat and allow it to pull me through the air?" It's like water-skiing--which I hate--only worse. Parachute or no parachute, I'd be scared to death. (I pretty much feel the same way about hang gliding and skydiving.) But I will tell you this: after reading about Travis and Gabby's parasailing adventure, I've started to rethink my attitude towards it, and maybe it wouldn't be so bad after all. Check this out:

"Look over there!" he said, pointing. "There's a ray! Can you see it?"

She saw it, black and sleek, moving beneath the surface like a slow-motion butterfly.

"And a pod of dolphins! Over there! Near the banks!"

As she marveled at the sight, her nervousness started to subside. Instead, she began to soak in the view of everything below--the town, the families sprawled on the beaches, the boats, the water. As she relaxed, she found herself thinking that she could probably spend an hour up here without ever growing tired of it. It was extraordinary to drift along at this elevation, coasting effortlessly on a wind current, as if she were a bird. Despite the heat, the breeze kept her cool, and as she rocked her feet back and forth, she felt the harness sway. (The Choice, p. 105-106)

After parasailing, everyone gathers on the beach for a cookout:

They reached for some plates as they eyed the appetizing variety of side dishes spread out on the table--beans, casseroles, potato, cucumber, and fruit salads--all of which smelled delicious. Gabby grabbed a bun, added some ketchup, mustard, and pickles, and held out her plate. Travis...lifted a burger from the side of the grill and added it to her bun.

He scooped some fruit salad onto his plate; Gabby added a taste of pretty much everything. When she was finished, she looked at both their plates with an almost guilty expression, which Travis thankfully didn't seem to notice. (The Choice, p. 115-116)

In almost every Nicholas Sparks novel, someone grills burgers. Or steaks, or hot dogs. I decided since we grill burgers at least twice a month (even in winter), always the same way, that this cookout in The Choice was a good excuse to try something different. I remembered a summer issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine that had all kinds of recipes for burgers, and that I hadn't tried any of them yet. I thumbed through the magazine and found this one:

POPPER SLIDERS (Of course, I had to try it because we love spicy things, and since going gluten free I haven't been able to eat jalapeno poppers)

3 fat, fresh jalapeno chile peppers

EVOO (That's Rachael Ray Speak for Extra Virgin Olive Oil) or vegetable oil, for drizzling

1 red fresno chile pepper, sliced*

8 oz cream cheese, softened

2 tbsp grated onion

1 large clove garlic, grated or pasted

A small handful of cilantro leaves, finely chopped

1/2 tsp ground cumin

Salt and pepper

2 lbs coarsely ground beef sirloin (lean) or chuck (fattier)

1 brick (2-by-2-inch) sharp yellow cheddar or smoked yellow cheddar cheese (about 4 oz), thinly sliced

12 slide rolls, such as 3-inch brioche rolls or cornmeal -topped rolls, split

Get Started: Preheat an outdoor grill, indoor griddle, or grill pan to medium-high heat.

Step 1: Cut off and discard the tops of the jalapenos. Using an apple corer or fork handle, scoop out and discard the seeds; slice the jalapenos into strips or rounds.

Step 2: Heat a little EVOO in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, add the halapeno and fresno chile peppers* and toss for a couple of minutes until crisp-tender and charred at the edges.

Step 3: Combine the cream cheese, onion, garlic, cilantro, and cumin; season with salt and pepper. Season the beef with salt and pepper,** form 12 patties (thinner at the center). Coat with EVOO, grill or griddle for 2 to 3 minutes. Fip and top with some cream cheese mixture and sliced cheese.

Step 4: Grill with the lid down (or tent with foil) until the cheese is melted, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve on the rolls topped with the chile pepper slices.

*I couldn't find fresno chile peppers, so I used poblanos instead.

**Moe wanted me to mix some of the jalapeno pieces in with the meat; I was happy to oblige, and they were great.

(From the June/July 2011 issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray, p.112)

The leftover cream cheese mixture makes a GREAT dip for corn chips!

I ended up making 10 sliders instead of 12, so they were slightly larger, but still on the smallish side. We had to make a couple without cheese for Moe.

I found these rolls at the farmers' market, made at a local bakery.


I found some local baby lima beans at the farmers' market.

I chopped a few slices of bacon and browned it; then I steamed the lima beans slightly and added them to the skillet. After cooking and stirring them together for a few minutes, they were ready. Easy-peasy!

When I make a fruit crisp, I don't really follow a recipe. On this night I chopped up some local pears and apples and added some honey, cinnamon, and cornstarch. I made a topping of about half a stick of butter, and about a half cup each of rolled oats, brown sugar, and gluten-free Bisquick, along with a little salt and cinnamon. I sprayed a baking dish with cooking spray, added the fruit mixture, and sprinkled on the topping. I baked it at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes.

Great with ice cream! (Store-bought this time.)

Gabby, Travis, and their friends arrived back at Travis' house late in the afternoon. The group dispersed quickly as some couples had young children who were tired. But guess what? Gabby and Travis had another meal together that night, and I'll share that one with you next time!

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