Monday, May 31, 2010

A Day to Remember

There are so many things I love about today.

What is better than a Memorial Day with friends, family, ours dogs and a fabulous cookout? Zach's mom and sister arrived to town Friday afternoon for the long weekend. Zach's sister, Wendy, will be in town all summer interning and working and enjoying the sweet California summer. We have been so busy all weekend so today was our chance to recoup. We set up our picnic table and loaded it up with some juicy burgers (with all the fixin's of course), sweet-buttery-salty-peppery corn, potato salad, watermelon, cookies and pie. Some friends joined our fab four to devour this feast in our warm sunny backyard.

Zach manned the grill.

Everyone pitched in to get the spread to the table.

Memorial Day weekend is the first of the summer, and we kicked it off properly.

The four of us spent most of the day in the apartment or outback with the grill. It was just one of those perfect days to me. I actually had time to wake up and make breakfast (spinach, artichoke and parmesan frittata), something I so rarely get to do.

I made some Southern Style Sweet Tea with the mountain blossom honey we bought down in Jullian, California a couple months ago, and I even whipped up a pie while I was at it. I know that all sounds exhausting for one single morning, but it was actually really relaxing for me. As a few friends started to arrive, we moved the party downstairs under the peach tree in the backyard. Stanley slept quietly nearby while Sube's dog, Three-Hole-Punch, pranced from person to person, looking for the suckers (me) who would give up a bite of their burger or whatever else she could get her paws on.

As early afternoon shifted to late afternoon, I found myself at the dining-room table in the midst of a highly anticipated sewing machine tutorial. Zach's mom was not only kind enough to bring her old sewing machine with her to give to me, she also taught me how to use it. I am going to continue making some fancy aprons with that machine, only now I will be about 9823745873658746 times faster...that is the hope, at least. Ain't she a beauty?

We went on to watch a really good movie called The Machinist from the comfort of our living-room sofa and ate California Chicken Cafe for dinner (a Lindzachary favorite). SeewhatImean? Perfect day.

Having Wendy here reminds me of the summer I spent doing the same thing she is about to do. It was a summer that changed my life in so many ways. My dad and I made the drive across the country on I-10, 10 hours a day for 4 days straight. It was a really special trip for me. While we did not make t-shirts to commemorate the drive (as Wendy and her mom did), we had a really good time listening to books on tape, finding good places to eat and talking a lot. I am pretty sure San Antonio was my favorite spot to stop.

Arriving in a new city like LA can be pretty overwhelming, but I seem to remember looking at it as a city in which I will never be bored instead of a city that will overcome me. It was really hard when my dad left to go back to Florida, leaving me in a new place by myself. I doubted my decision for about a minute. Internal dialogue: "What have I done? What do I do now? It's a beautiful day. I like it here."

I had never been so alone, but I embraced that feeling more than anything. I went to movies by myself, I shopped (wayyyyyyy too much), I went to the beach, to the farmer's markets and I ate at great restaurants. As a bonus, I loved the internship I was fortunate enough to do. I treated LA like my own little Paris, sitting on the outdoor patio at restaurants with a book (or more likely a magazine), taking walks and seeking out the city's great hidden places. I spent the summer falling in love with California and finding a career that seemed to excite me all at the same time. While I missed my friends and family in Florida ("missed" is probably an understatement, but I am sure you get the idea), I think that summer alone was something I needed and will always value. I think time alone with anyone teaches you a lot about them, even if that person is yourself.

I am glad Zach and I get the chance to be a part of Wendy's summer in LA. I really hope it can be as memorable of an experience for her as I found it to be 5 years ago.

Now for a recipe! Why? Because that is what I do! It is all about the food here. Every time I ask Zach what he wants me to make for dessert, he either mentions key lime pie or cheesecake, neither of which I have attempted until now. I found a recipe that seems to incorporate the two (although it is far more key lime pie than it is cheesecake). The recipe includes cream cheese in the pie filling. I am not a huge fan of key lime pie, but this one seemed pretty darn tasty. It is perfect for a hot summer day with a glob of cool whip on top. Doesn't it just make you want to have a picnic?

California Lime Pie

(recipe from Recipezaar, originally from the Cincinnati Enquirer - makes 8 - 10 servings)

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup key lime juice (I could not find any here in LA so I made it the California way with regular old lime juice)
1 9-inch graham cracker crust (you can make this yourself, but I just bought one for convenience)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Beat softened cream cheese until creamy.
Add sweetened condensed milk and beat to incorporate.
Add egg yolks and beat well.
Add lime juice and beat till combined.
Pour mixture into pie crust and spread with spatula until evenly distributed.
Place on cookie sheet and then into the oven and bake for 10 min or until the filling begins to set.
Remove from oven and allow to cool on rack at room temp.
Then place in the refrigerator for at least an hour (two works better)
Cut into 8 slices and serve with a generous helping of whipped cream.

This post was written as a Guest Blog for my #1 alltime favorite blog: The Boston Lady (or as I like to call her: the giver of the sewing nice!) If you like my blog, you will love hers.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Farm(er's Market) Fresh Fried Potatoes

This is the only picture I have of the potatoes I made the other night.

Gone. All gone before I even thought to snap a quick pic. This has only happened once before and it was during my early food blogging days (see spinach and artichoke mac and cheese). These potatoes were delightful. They were flavorful with just the right texture: slight crisp to the outside and unbelievably creamy on the inside. Make these now (assuming you have a half bottle of corn oil, fresh sage, artichokes and 3 varieties of potatoes sitting around).

I bought the beautiful variety potatoes and fresh sage for this recipe (unfortunately not pictured) at the Santa Monica Farmer's Market. It is one of my favorite places to be early in the day on a Sunday. It is a big farmer's market that is made up of half farm fresh foods (fruits, vegetables, herbs, cheeses, eggs, nuts, beans, etc) and half prepared or made-to-order hot foods (pancakes, omelets, tamales, quesadillas, sausages, breads, coffee, crepes, corn, etc). There are also some boutique clothing and jewelry vendors sprinkled throughout. It is about a block from the beach in Santa Monica so the breeze is perfect for a hot day. Just ask Stanley...

There are farmer's markets are all over the city. I have seen bigger ones (Hollywood Farmer's Market on Sundays) and smaller ones (Larchmont Farmer's Market on Sundays) that I really enjoy, but the Santa Monica one has got a history with me. It is a big part of what made me fall in love with California the first time I visited. The idea of someday being able to go to the market any Sunday I wanted was just so appealing to me. I also used to dream about taking my dog for a walk around the area after eating a huge breakfast (the omelets are my favorite) because Santa Monica is probably the most dog-friendly areas in the city (even though they are not allowed in the actual market itself or even on the sand at the beach). It is every bit as delightful as I thought it would be, and Stanley looooooooved looking at the kites that were flying as we strolled down the walkway at the beginning of the sand. I still think about how I would love to live so close to the market that I could wake up and just walk there (Someday?).

If you find yourself in Los Angeles, this farmer's market is a must. I recommend the omelets (the biggest you have ever seen); they make it right in front of you as you tell them what you want in it. Oh, and the line is worth it. The pancakes are also huge and delicious with fresh blueberries. I rarely stray from either of those two things, but everything looks amazing so I don't think you can go wrong.

I have been meaning to make these potatoes for a really long time after reading about them on another food blog, Caviar and Codfish. It has a lot of great recipes and pictures that do them justice. You can find an original picture of these potatoes (instead of the one I have after they have been demolished by 6 hungry people) as well as the incredible meal that was made to go with them HERE .

Farm(er's Market) Fresh Fried Potatoes with Sage and Artichokes
(slightly adapted for convenience from Caviar and Codfish)

2 1/2 lbs potatoes, purple, new and fingerling
1/2 jar of artichokes, patted dry (original recipe called for about 8 fresh artichokes, but I didn't want to experiment with trimming them and prepping them properly this time around...the ones from the jar were fine for now, but I would like to try it again with the fresh ones)
1 handful (small), fresh sage leaves
corn oil, however much you need to almost submerge the potatoes in the was about 3/4 of a small bottle for me.
kosher salt (original recipe calls for fleur de sel which is probably best, but I didn't have any)
Shaved Parmesan cheese (optional - not part of original recipe)

Fill a very large skillet or heavy-bottomed pot halfway with corn oil and place over med-high heat.
Cut the potatoes into thirds or quarters (depending on the size of each - the cut potatoes should all end up as the same size before frying).
After about 5 minutes, add the potatoes to the hot oil (the recipe says the oil should be 350F-375F, but I did not have a way of knowing how hot the oil was so I just put the potatoes in at 5 minutes)
Leave the potatoes in the skillet/pot undisturbed for 5 minutes, and then stir with a long spoon (don't get splashed with hot oil!). The idea here is to shift the potatoes around in the pot so the ones cooking faster can switch places with the ones cooking slower in different positions in the pot.
Leave the potatoes alone again for 8 minutes. Meanwhile, take the artichokes out of the jar, and pat dry with a paper towel (or of course, prep your fresh artichokes).
After the 8 minutes, add artichokes and stir.
Continue to fry the potatoes with the artichokes 10-15 minutes.
When the potatoes start to turn golden and become crispy on the outside (go ahead, take one out, blow on it to cool and give it a try), add the sage leaves for the last minute of frying (they will become crispy really quickly).
Remove everything from the pot and drain on paper towels set out over either a baking sheet or paper bags.
Sprinkle with kosher salt (or better, as the recipe says, fleur de sel).
I also sprinkled some shaved Parmesan cheese over te top of the hot potatoes which i think worked well. The original recipe also suggests serving with lemon wedges which would be nice too.

BONUS! I was also making some jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped with bacon at the time, so I scraped a couple chunks of toasted cream cheese that had been left on the baking sheet from that, and plopped them in the potatoes. It probably equaled less than a tablespoon of cream cheese, but I think it added a fun hint of flavor.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It's a Piece of Cake to Bake a Pretty Cake


Possibly my favorite food in the world. I love cake. Cakes with frosting must have at least two layers. The thin coat of frosting between two layers of cake is what I imagine Heaven to be like. I am not sure if you will know what I mean because I am getting really specific here, but I like the way the cake sticks to either side of the frosting when the two layers come apart.

Enough about cake with frosting because this cake has something better (yes, better is possible in this situation only): rum. Rum cake is God's love raining down on mankind in the shape of a bundt pan. My aunt Janet has always made the best rum cake every year for Christmas since before I can remember. It is the food I look forward to the most every time our family gets together for Christmas Eve dinner. It is a rich cake with a buttery bittersweet flavor. Sweet pecan bits are baked into the top of the cake to give it a great contrast of texture from the outside to the soft, smooth inside of the cake. It is so easy to make (using cake mix), and it comes out just like my aunt Janet's.

This is one of my favorite desserts in the world. In fact, I would give it a slot in my top 10 (in no particular order):

Stonewood Grill and Tavern Chocolate Bread Pudding
Polar Cup (strawberry or watermelon or lemon) - I always thought this was a huge establishment, but Polar Cup is a hometown need to find some if you are ever in Tampa, Florida.
Sweet Lady Jane Triple Berry Cake
Diddy Riese icecream sandwiches
Better than sex cake (chocolate or vanilla - recipes to come later)
Chocolate pecan bourbon pie
Almost any kind of frosted cake with multiple layers

And of course, Aunt Janet's Rum Cake:

For Cake:
1 box Duncan Hines golden butter cake mix
1/2 C light rum
1/4 C oil
1 C chopped pecans
1 small box instant vanilla pudding
4 eggs
1/2 C water

For Glaze:
1 C sugar
1 stick butter
1/4 C rum
1/4 C water

Preheat the oveN to 325 degrees F.
In a large bowl, mix all the cake ingredients except for the pecans. Use a beater to combine thoroughly.
Grease a bundt pan, and sprinkle the pecans around the bottom of the pan.
Pour the cake batter in the pan on top of the pecans and bake for 50 minutes.

Start making the glaze when you take the cake out of the oven.
Combine all ingredients for the glaze in a small pot, and bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes.
While the cake is still in the pan, pour the glaze all over the cake (poke holes all over the cake with a fork or a toothpick so that the glaze can seep in).
Once the glaze is absorbed, turn the cake over onto your serving plate.
Allow cake to cool for at least two hours before serving.

The rum flavor in this cake is pretty strong. It is slightly surprising with the first bite; that is how you know it is right!

I will leave you with this video in case you really want to understand the inspiration behind this blog post...and get a great song stuck in your head at the same time.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Spoon Me Up

Spoons are underrated.

Eating salad with a spoon is the new thing (in my kitchen at least). When you pack a salad with lots of little goodies like beans, corn, chopped veggies, etc, chop everything up and use shredded lettuce. Scoop it all up with a big spoon, and you will be sure to get a taste of everything in each delicious bite.

Now, I have a little something to say about salads. Some unsolicited advice, if you will...

I have been eating salads since I was 10 years old and was on my 25 pound weight loss journey. Salads can be a very satisfying way of filling you up with a variety of good-for-you foods. On the other hand, they can be a horrible trap, packing in a thousand calories when you include all the cheese, dressing and other toppings. Here is a little checklist of things you need to be on the lookout for when ordering a salad at a restaurant:

Creamy dressings - 2 tablespoons of a thick dressing (which is a serving size) can cost you more calories than everything else in the salad combined. Tip: If you must have the creamy fatty dressing, order it on the side, and use less than half of it on your salad. If it is not enough (I suspect it should be if you spread it out), supplement it with a lighter dressing, some vinegar or avocado.

Cheese - Flavorful cheeses go a long way. Avoid mild cheeses (like mozzarella) that need to be piled on to make a difference. Instead, stick with cheeses like feta, goat cheese, blue cheese or parmesan with rich sharp flavors; you don't need very much to make in impact so use them sparingly.

Nuts - Nuts are good for you, but they are still packed with calories and fat. They are a great addition to a salad to add some real substance to keep you full for a long time, but they should be enjoyed in moderation. You should also be careful about the word, "candied" when it comes to nuts. Avoid candied nuts altogether when you are eating a salad. Candy is for dessert.

Meat - Don't use salad as an excuse to order chicken fingers at a restaurant. If you wish to order something as bad for you as fried chicken, you are better off ordering just the fried chicken with a side salad or side of veggies. Disguising chicken tenders in a salad costume will only encourage you to eat more of them. A better option is grilled chicken, steak or even some kind of fish to add substance and protein to your salad. There are plenty of ways to spice up the meat on your salad (e.g. see my almond crusted tilapia which is ever so lightly fried and then baked - also the recipe below uses hot sauce to add bursts of flavor to the grilled chicken).

The following list (provided by include some salad you may want to think twice about before ordering at a restaurant, mainly because if you order one of these, you might as well eat a burger and fries (not gonna lie, burger/fries = ultimately more delicious than any salad):

Chili's Quesadilla Explosion Salad (1390 calories / 89 grams of fat)
Ruby Tuesday's Carolina Chicken Salad (1,129 calories/71 grams fat)
Chili's Southwestern Cobb Salad – 1,080 calories/71 grams
Chili's Boneless Buffalo Chicken Salad – 1,070 calories/77 grams
Quiznos Roasted Chicken Flatbread Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing – 1,070 calories/71 grams fat
Quiznos Chicken Caesar Flatbread Salad – 1,020 calories/69 grams fat
Macaroni Grill Chicken Florentine Salad – 1,020 calories/17 grams
Baja Fresh Charbroiled Steak Tostada Salad – 1,230 calories/63 grams fat

I like to make salads that I can pig out on or eat as much as I want guilt free. Now here is a salad you can feel about eating:

Southwestern Spoon Salad:

1 package shredded lettuce
1 large tomato, chopped
1 small can golden corn (drained thoroughly, about 7.5 oz)
1 can black beans, drained thoroughly
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 white onion, chopped
light ranch dressing (you need very little for this salad since it has so much flavor on its own)
handful of shredded cheese (any kind - optional, and not even needed in my opinion)
handful of chopped cilantro
1 avocado, sliced
2 chicken breasts, cooked, cubed
hot sauce

Cook the chicken however you like (grill, bake, chop and pan fry).
Once the chicken is coooked and shredded (or cubed) transfer to a large ziploc bag. Add some hot sauce and shake the bag to coat the chicken lightly (use as much or as little as you want. I definitely used way too much! I suggest you add it little by little so you can always stop when you feel you have used enough. If you do not like hot sauce, you can switch it out for bar-b-q sauce which also makes for a nice southwest flavor).
In a large glass dish, layer 1/2 of the lettuce, tomatoes, corn, black beans, peppers, onions and chicken (reserving a little of each ingredient for the top as well).
Top it all with the rest of the lettuce, the reserved bits of each ingredient and the shredded cheese (if using). The spread out some avocado slices and sprinkle with cilantro.
You may or may not need dressing, but if you do...go with light ranch!

Eat out of a huge bowl with a big spoon. And since you are being so good, throw in a couple tortilla chips :]

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Award Season

Here are the rules:

1. Thank who gave it to you and post the rules

2. Copy the award in your blog

3. List 3 things you love about yourself

4. Post a picture or quote you love

5. Tag people you wish to pass this award to.

This is my first (and potentially only) blog award! So let's milk it...

1 - I would like to thank The Boston Lady for passing this award on to me and my blog. She is my #1 commenter and blog supporter, and I am happy to all her my friend. Please check out her blog which is filled with posts across the board from stories about a rich family history to DIY home projects to vacation stories, celeb sightings and most importantly stories about her boston terriers.

2 - See above....ain't it purty?

3 - Three things I value about myself are my compassion, sense of humor and my curls (super low maintenance hair is the biggest blessing I could ever imagine).

4 - A quote I have been meaning to use in this blog is something my sister-in-law found in (and this is super embarrassing but I love love love it) O Magazine (and yes, "O" stands for Oprah). So here it is:
When I walk into my kitchen today, I am not alone. Whether we know it or not, none of us is. We bring fathers and mothers and kitchen tables, and every meal we have ever eaten. Food is never just food. It's also a way of getting at something else: who we are, who we have been, and who we want to be."
- Molly Wizenberg (from A Homemade Life)

5 - I would like to pass on this award to 4 blogs that I peek through on a regular basis:

LIVING WITH ANNIE - Your at home/at work (in Hollywood)/at play survival guide.

THE CALANANDER - Big news about small movies, local screenings and Q &A's.

FOR THE LOVE - Funny girl. Loves God. Takes on the world one adventure at a time.

FUNNY STORY ABOUT THAT... - Random wisdom (or wise-ass-dom). Bad albums. Good times.

Please take a look at all four and support my fellow bloggers!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Big Hot Mamas

That is a big mama.

It is Mothers' Day, and I am in a position to celebrate this year. I am the proud mother of a big boy named Stanley Weissmilian. I know I have mentioned before...likely several times...that I was making plans to adopt a greyhound. Well, al I can say is that at least my follow-through on that is better than my follow-through on blogging at least once a week these days!

This is our beautiful baby boy. He weighs 90 lbs 2 oz and is as sweet as can be. I think I mentioned that were were originally looking for a female greyhound (mostly because I wanted to name her Stella). The adoption place matched us with a couple different dogs (based on what we were looking for), and we connected with Stanley (formerly named "Houdini" which was his racing name). In honor of mothers' day, I have decided to do what every mother is entitled to do: brag about my child.

We brought Stan home about a month ago, and he was very timid. He had never been inside a home before so he was not familiar with things like hardwood floors, people beds and the ever-challenging staircase. We bought a metal fence enclosure for him because we knew he was used to that. He would sit inside of it most of the day at first, even if we left the gate open because it was where he felt the most at home. From the start, Stanley did not go to the bathroom in the house which is a dream come true. We had to push him to even come out of his comfort zone behind the fence to come sit with us on the couch (which is now his ultimate comfort zone).

His "personality" is coming out more and more every day.

We returned the fence to the pet store along with some other things we bought before his arrival, thinking he would be more high maintenance then he actually was. He now has free range of the apartment (even though he mainly sticks to the couch. He is so big that Zach and I end up scrunched together on one cushion sometimes because he is sprawled out sleeping! He is such a good boy and knows his boundaries (such a people pleaser). We have taken him to restaurants, and even though his face is table height, he does not lunge at our food. He makes gentle attempts to sniff the food (there was even bacon!), but he knows it is not for him. We do not feed him from the table at all so he knows not to expect anything. Of course, I gave him leftover bacon on the way home as a special treat!

The first time we took him to the dog park, all he wanted to do is sniff other dogs' butts (not to gross you out, but he has a long thin nose so he can really get in there). However, we took him this weekend, and it was like we were seeing a new side of him. He played with the other dogs and ran around with them (probably about 1/2 speed...we still have not seen him go all out!). After the dog park, he slept all day until his evening walk and then slept all night until his morning walk. That was yesterday. He is now lounging on the couch yet again, resting his long chin on his paws looking at me as I type.

Stanley is the sweetest most cuddly big boy. His is so soft and loves hugs. See?

We are very proud of our boy, and I will annoyingly keep you updated on his progress at home!

I would also like to wish all the other mothers I know a very Happy Mothers' Day! You are all wonderful women for the sacrifices you have made for your children. I know my mom, specifically, has made so many sacrifices for me and my brother to ensure we grew up with every opportunity to succeed. I appreciate everything you have dome for me mom. Your have always been a great mommy, and you are now an incredible grandmother to two beautiful grandchildren, one on the way, and one big dog! I love you so much!

I am still on a super-duper-easy recipe kick so here is a weeknight recipe that will take you no time!

Big Hot Mama's Fork and Knife Quesadillas:

(makes 4 HUGE quesadillas)

4 8 inch flour tortillas
vegetable oil (for coating the pan when sauteing)
1 1/2 C shredded cheese (mexican blends work best, but whatever you prefer is fine)
1 lb boneless/skinless chicken breast (cooked and shredded)
1 medium yellow onion - chopped
1 medium green bell pepper - chopped
1 jalepeno pepper - diced (seeds removed completely if you don't like it spicy...if you like it spicy, leave some seeds in there)
1 can black beans (drained)
2 tsp hot sauce
salt and pepper

Coat a large skillet with some oil, and saute the onion, bell pepper and jalepeno over medium heat until just tender.
Add cooked/shredded chicken to the vegetables, and mix.
Add the black beans to the mixture.
Add hot sauce (more or less depending on taste...go ahead...taste it!)

Coat a separate pan with oil over med-high heat.
Lay out the tortilla, and spread 1/4 of the cheese (or just enough to sprinkle over the whole tortilla)
Allow cheese to start melting (ensuring the tortilla is not burning (you can adjust heat if necessary).
Add 1/4 of the chicken/veggie mixture to one side of the tortilla, and fold the other side over it; it should be HUGE at this point.
If you can flip it on the pan, do it. You might not be able to!
Allow to cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.