Memorial Day

Easy Santa Maria Style Pinquito Beans

If you’ve ever been to the California Central Coast for barbecue, then you’re familiar with Santa Maria style beans.  Until a few weeks ago, I couldn’t find the pinquito beans in local stores (they’re native to and could only be found in the Santa Maria Valley).  I was at Vons and stumbled upon the S & W Pinquito Beans with Onion and Garlic in the canned beans section.  They were on sale and I bought a ton!  The beans, straight out of the can, are pre-seasoned and are actually really good (great for camping, etc.).  But, they do need some additions to taste like the real thing.  I scoured the internet for various recipes and each one was very different, so I took ingredients from several and made up my own.  I don’t ever recall bacon being in these beans, but added it anyway because…it’s bacon.  You can’t go wrong!

This recipe can easily be doubled or quadrupled for a larger crowd.


2 cans of S & W Pinquito Beans with Onion and Garlic

2 strips of thick cut bacon, chopped

1/2 medium white onion, chopped

1 T. chili powder

1 small garlic clove, minced or crushed

1 T. tomato paste

salt, to taste

pepper, to taste

Cook the chopped bacon in a skillet on medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes or until crisp.  Add the chopped onion and chili powder and cook for another 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for five minutes more until the onions are soft.

Combine the bacon-onion mixture with the canned beans in a pot.  Add tomato paste and salt and pepper, to taste.  Cook the beans on low for approximately 30 minutes (make sure you don’t overcook them as you don’t want the beans to get too mushy).  You can serve them immediately or transfer to a crockpot and keep on warm.

Pineapple Upside Down Cupcakes

I was feeling like a non-chocolate potluck dessert (a very rare occasion!) and Pineapple Upside Down Cake sounded really good.  I’ve never made it before and I thought cupcakes would be even better.  (I tend to prefer cupcakes over cakes because the ratio of toppings to cake is much more evenly distributed.)  Found this recipe for Pineapple Upside Down Cupcakes on the Betty Crocker website.  The brown sugar butter glaze caramelizes the tops and the pineapple perfectly to make these cupcakes sweet and luscious!


1 box yellow cake mix (I used Betty Crocker’s Extra Moist Yellow Cake and highly recommend it!)

1/2 cup vegetable oil

3 eggs

20 oz. can of sliced pineapple, drained and reserve the juice

1/3 cup butter, melted

2/3 cup packed brown sugar

12 maraschino cherries, cut in half

24 baking cups

Spray the baking cups really well with non-stick cooking spray.

Drain the pineapple slices and set the juice aside.  Cut the pineapple rings into four pieces each.  Cut the maraschino cherries in half.

On low speed for 30 seconds, mix the cake mix, oil, eggs, and pineapple juice.  Continue mixing on medium speed for two minutes.

In a separate bowl, combine the butter and brown sugar.  Put 1 1/2 tsp. of butter mixture into each baking cup.  Add a maraschino cherry in the center (round side down) and then add two pineapple slices on top of the cherry.  Lastly, add 1/4 cup of batter on top of everything.

Bake the cupcakes in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cool for 5 minutes.  Flip the cupcakes upside down on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Carefully remove the baking cup liners

Serve warm or at room temperature.  You’re ready for potluck time!

Watermelon Cilantro Salad

Watermelon Salad with Cilantro

Watermelon, red onion, red bell pepper, and cilantro are combined with a squeeze of lime juice and a drizzle of olive oil to make this the perfect sweet and savory, yet healthy, summertime salad!  It’s a very easy and affordable potluck dish to make.  And did I mention that it’s also gluten-free?!?!

Stacy made it for a beach bonfire recently (she had it at a 4th of July party) and I fell in love it.  Thank you, Stacy, for sharing this recipe!


1 seedless watermelon, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 small red onion, chopped

1 bunch of cilantro, chopped

Squeeze of lime

Drizzle of olive oil

Combine all of the above ingredients in a large bowl.  Cover tightly and keep chilled in the fridge until potluck time!


Strawberry Dream Cake

Strawberry Dream Cake

Strawberry Dream Cake is luscious, sweet, moist, light, and absolutely delicious!  EVERY time I make this cake, everyone goes crazy for it.  It is one of my favorite cake recipes and is perfect year round for any potluck, but I especially like to make it for spring and summer occasions.

Mary Lou, a former co-worker, gave this recipe to me years ago and it has been a staple in my recipe book ever since.


1 package white cake mix

1 small box strawberry Jell-o

2 T. flour

3 eggs

1/4 cup water

10 oz. box frozen strawberries, thawed (I have only ever been able to find a 16 oz. container of frozen strawberries.  Make sure you buy the kind with sugar added.)

2/3 cup canola or vegetable oil

1/4 cup softened margarine (I haven’t tried this with butter yet.  So, if you do and it works out, please let me know!)

3 cups powdered sugar

1/2 tsp. vanilla

Beat the cake mix, Jell-o, flour, eggs, and water in a large bowl on medium speed for two minutes.  Add 6.5 oz. of the strawberries including liquid (I use my glass measuring cup that has cups and ozs.) to the mix and beat 1 more minute.  Add the oil and beat 1 more minute.

Put the batter in a greased and floured 9 x 13″ pan. Bake for approximately 30 to 40 minutes at 350 degrees, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  It will get golden brown on top and that’s normal. Let cake cool completely.

To make the frosting, mix the margarine, powdered sugar, and 3.5 oz. of strawberries including liquid until well blended.  This frosting is in somewhere in between a glaze and a frosting, so you may need to add a little more powdered sugar to thicken it up.  Frost the cake, cover it, and immediately put it in the fridge.

An hour of so before potluck time, take it out of the fridge and serve it at room temperature.

* Alternate serving suggestion:  Make them as cupcakes.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean!

Tom’s BBQ Tri Tip


Tri Tip

This is Tom’s simple northern Santa Maria style tri trip recipe (the southern style is spicy and slightly sweet).  It takes time, but it’s worth it!  Make sure you stick close to the grill when this is cooking because once it’s ready to eat, it’s gone!


One untrimmed trip tip

Coarse sea or kosher salt

Olive Oil

Cracked Black Pepper

Garlic Powder


Tom’s Instructions:

Start by lightly trimming off the hard fat flap.  Be careful to not strip off all the fat (that’s flavor), but don’t throw away the fat trimmings. We’ll get to that later.

Now drench the meat with olive oil.  DRENCH IT!  Don’t be afraid.  There is a reason for everything.

Next, go tip to tail with the salt. Do the same, or go a little lighter, with the pepper.  Depending on your preference.  Then, go heavy on the garlic powder.

Here’s where the magic takes place.  Use your fingertips to press and poke the dry spices on the meat.  (No rubbing the spices!  Lots of people rub and that’s fine if you don’t mind all your future “crust of flavor” balling up and rolling off the meat.)  Carefully flip that slap and repeat.

Crack open a beer and pour a little brew in the plate so it can mix with oil and dry ingredients.  Cover up the trip tip and let it sit on the counter.

Go outside and get the coals going (yes it’s bbq, not outdoor grilling).  I use Kingsford Original.  NEVER use Matchlight coals ever.  This is bbq, not a race to the finish.  Now, crack a beverage and relax.

Now, for the smoke.  For true Santa Maria style, use red oak.  Although, any oak will work.  Sometimes, I use mesquite and oak mix.  I like to soak it overnight or longer so it smokes, not burns, when I’m feeling really fancy.  Bring those coals up to heat and stack them in a corner of the grill.  Put the cutoff fat slab, that you saved, next to the coals.  Let it smoke.

Take your wood out of the water and stack it near, not on, the coals.  Throw the meat on the grill, fat side up, directly over the coals (the hottest part of the grill).  Keep an eye on it.  As soon as it looks “sealed,” flip it so the fat side is down.

Cover the grill to avoid flare-ups.  When the fat side has a nice “bark” on it, it’s done.  Well, at least the hot stuff is done.  Next comes the smoke.  Take the meat and turn it fat side up, off the heat, on the other side of the grill.

By now, the wood should be smoking pretty good.  Cover it, grab your beverage, have a seat, and talk story with your buddies.

This is where you decide how you like your trip tip.  It’s usually served medium-well.  That’s the most tender and flavorful way, but everyone has their own way.  When you’ve decided that it’s done, take that bad boy off the grill and let it relax for 10 to 15 minutes.

Make sure you have a good sharp knife (I’ve seen people destroy a good cut of meat by sawing at it with a dull knife) and cut it CROSS GRAIN.

Let it sit in its juice, like you do in a hot tub after a killer day of snowboarding.


Hawaiian Plate Lunch Mac Salad

Hawaiian Macaroni Salad

This is a typical Hawaiian Plate Lunch Macaroni Salad that is so simple, but so yummy that it’s always a hit at our potlucks!  There’s nothing genius about it, but the sweet onion and Best Foods mayo is a must!  Everything is made to taste.


Boiled Macaroni (small elbow), rinsed well and cooled.

Mayonnaise (It HAS to be Best Foods mayo; my friend Napua taught me that!).

Sweet Onion, minced really really fine.

Grated Carrot



Mix it all together and you’re done.  If you like your mac salad dressing a little runny, then add some milk.