Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tricks and Treats

Trick or treat?

This attractive-looking beverage is a margarita (with a serious twist) in disguise. It could be mistaken for a "girly drink", but it is more treat than trick for adults over the age of 21 (18 in some states) of any gender. Zach mentioned this drink is "better than any margarita he's ever tasted". It reminds me of a $16 custom-made drink I loved one time with dinner at a super-hot LA restaurant, The Bazaar (with wonderful company, of course!). The drink I had at the Bazaar was a kind of cucumber (for cool), jalepeno (for bite), lime (for kick) margarita. It was just the most interesting and delightful flavor. I had that same experience with this drink. I would call it the milder version of that drink: you've got the cilantro for bite, pomegranate (for cool), lemon (for kick).

I spotted this idea in my latest issue of Sunset Magazine. It was one of three delicious-looking ideas, and I plan on trying them all. They all involve making your own simple syrup with sugar, water and some kind of herb to infuse it (like cilantro or a vanilla bean). I imagine you can become very creative with this simple syrup base, infusing all sorts of refreshing herbs like mint, basil, rosemary.

For those of you who are not fans of Halloween, here is something that is no trick...just treat:

I just had to share because this is outrageous! Those are both red seedless grapes in the picture above. One is a regular-sized grape. The other is the biggest grape I have ever seen. I need you to know, this is not a fluke grape in a bunch. If that were the case, I would probably be afraid to eat it. It was part of a whole crate or two at whole foods of huge, ping-pong-ball-sized red seedless grapes. Now, I have been a huge fan of grapes for a long time, but I have never seen anything like these grapes. They look more like small plums if you ask me. It initially made me uncomfortable to think about the extent to which these grape must have been mutated (basically beyond recognition. However, when I bit into one, I remembered that genetic mutation in fruits is my friend because they tasted sooooo good. There was so much grape flesh just bursting out of the firm skin. I was waiting to hit a seed or a core or something, but it was all flesh. I was as surprised as I would have been biting into a nectarine and never coming across a core.

I apologize I cannot provide a recipe for you for these huge mutant grapes, but I know you will happy with my disguised margarita instead! Happy Halloween!

Pomegranate Cilantro Margarita

(recipe from Sunset Magazine)

fresh lemon juice
pomegranate juice
white sugar

Make the simple syrup by mixing equal parts water and sugar, and bring it to a boil. Turn heat off, and add a large handful of cilantro sprigs.
Allow cilantro to steep to taste.
Set syrup aside to cool.

In a shaker mix:
3 parts tequila
1 part pomegranate juice
2 parts lemon juice
2 parts cilantro simple syrup

Pour in a glass with ice and garnish with a sprig of cilantro.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Got Eggs? (and Feta and Spinach): Brunch Club October Continued

I cannot stop thinking about these little gems.

This is definitely a self-appointed title, but just call me "Savory Sammy" when it comes to brunch. I feel like I can be counted on to provide at least one savory dish when we gather for our monthly brunches. I had been planning to make Chocolate Chip Puffins for a while, but I needed a savory dish as well. I almost always end up bringing some sort of egg, meat or egg/meat dish. I am simply running out of ideas for ways to make eggs! I resorted to searching Tastespotting for egg dishes. If you are not familiar with this website, it is essentially pictures of food...pages and pages of food pictures. You can click on something that looks delicious and be directed to the website of the photographer (which usually is a food blog that includes a recipe).

I came across a delightful photo of a tasty-looking egg dish on a blog I had never visited, A Big Mouthful: Adventures in Food. I mean, I pretty much started drooling when I saw the picture of these "Spinach Feta Pop-In-You-Mouths". I thought if I could make something that looked half as good, I would be more than happy. I was impressed to find (after actually reading the blog post) that the blogger, Adrienne, basically made these spontaneously one day with some ingredients she had on hand. I was even more impressed when I got a chance to taste my recreation of them.

The recipe is flawless. I followed it exactly as written (which I almost NEVER do), and they came out perfectly...exactly as I had hoped they would. It was very easy too!

Please visit Adrienne's blog for the recipe and other amazing ones as well: A Big Mouthful: Spinach Feta Pop-In-Your-Mouths . You will not be disappointed!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Change Up: Brunch Club October

Some things never change; more things do.

October brunch was at Sube's last year. We feasted on a silly amount of food, and then we carved pumpkins. There were mounds of orange goop in large bowls on the table as each of us carved our own pumpkins with an unnecessary level of concentration. This year was to be a repeat. Sube was hosting again, and brunch was to be followed by the carving of pumpkins.

While I would call the brunch another wonderful brunch success, there was an epic pumpkin carving fail. I believe Andace brought one small pumpkin. Stanley tried to eat the stem, but gave up probably once he realized it tasted like a tree. Once brunch was cleared from the table, the pumpkin tools were brought out, but no one moved. We continued our amusing conversation about what horror movie character Sue should be for Halloween at the school where she teaches and the fact that she and Natalie's dad bears a strong resemblance (at least in his facebook picture) to US House Minority Leader, John Boehner. To illustrate, two of the three pictures below are the real John Boehner; one is Sue and Natalie's dad:

Anyway, we all were so distracted by good food and conversation that the single small innocent pumpkin was spared.

Besides the absence of pumpkin carving, there are quite a few things that have changed just since the last October Brunch (2009), hosted by Sube:

*Candace and Andy tied the knot in a backyard ceremony at Andy's parents' Canadian home.
*Zach and I adopted our Greyhound, Stanley and moved into a new, much bigger apartment and are each in different jobs.
*Elliott moved to LA and got a cool new job.
*Emily and Rob got engaged!
*Natalie moved into a great Loz Feliz Apartment on her own and seems to have made more friends than people I have even met in LA.
*Brian got a great job, and Sue gave us the "two year warning" that babies would be on the way!
*Even though Three-Hole-Punch (Sube's little dog) gained weight since last year, she looks smaller to me now that I am used to Stanley.

If you ask me, these are all great changes. This stage of life is so fascinating to me. Change is not only rapid, it is significant. People are going from boyfriend/girlfriend to husband/wife, jobs that will direct the course of our careers are won/lost/quit; it is like life on steroids because the decisions we make at this stage of life seem to carry more weight than ever before, laying the groundwork for our adult lives.

Zach and I adopted Stanley the Greyhound, it was strange to think that the decision would have a huge effect on my life for about the next ten years. I think it is important to take big decisions seriously, but it is just as important to be be able to break them down into manageable terms. We cannot always know exactly where the decisions we make will take us or what the consequences might turn out to be. It helps me to think of big choices in terms of "day by day". Each day, I will choose to take on the consequences (good or bad) of the decisions that have led me to that point (big or small). I guess a huge decision is simply made up of a bunch of small ones.

With all the decision-making and changes taking place, the constants become increasingly important. I am really grateful for the consistency of something like monthly brunch club but more so for the relationships that led to it in the first place.

Maybe you are not in this very scarily exciting time of your life, and you could use some change! If that is the case (and even if not because who really cares if their food changes as long as it is delicious), you may consider trying the following recipe from the hugely popular baking blog, Bakerella. Here, she comes up with the most creative little treasures, pancakes in the form of mini-muffins...Puffins. Brilliant! They are dip-able/dunk-able (however you prefer to put it) little pancakes: dip in syrup and eat with your hands. You can make them in any variety of pancake; I went with blueberry puffins and chocolate chip puffins.

Chocolate Chip Puffins

(Recipe from Bakerella, makes 24)

1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 egg
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips (I did half blueberry/half chocolate chip so I used 1/4 C chocolate chips and 1/4 C fresh blueberries)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar in a medium bowl. Sift together with a wire whisk.
In another bowl, stir buttermilk, egg, maple syrup and melted butter until just combined.
Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir with a spoon until combined.
Stir in chocolate chips. Reserve a few chips to sprinkle on the tops.
Bake for 8-9 minutes.

Makes 24 mini pancake muffins.

Let cool slightly and remove from the pan. You may need to use a toothpick around the edges to separate the pancake muffins from the pan.

Serve immediately with warmed butter if you like or even just with maple syrup.

COMING SOON: I made another dish for brunch that was potentially my favorite dish I have ever contributed to the feast. For a sneak peak, check out the yellow thing with bits of green in it on the bottom of my plate (I apologize for the horrible picture)...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

You Can't Eat Babies

Sweet. Scrumptious. Honey. I could just eat you up.

Why do people use words traditionally used to describe food to describe or talk to babies? I don't really think it works the other way around. I wouldn't particularly respond to a dish on a menu that was described as being, "adorable", "cute" or "looking just like his mommy".

Don't get me wrong. I do understand the urge to want to take a bite right out of a cute baby's chubby leg or (on the same strange level) pinch a baby's cheek. I mean look at these faces.

My brother and sister-in-law just had their third baby girl this week. Her name is Rachel Marie, and we are all really excited that she is here. I cannot wait to meet her when I am in Florida for Amanda and Mikey's wedding in a few weeks! She is just scrumptious.

I think it is just something deep down within us that touches us when we look into the face of an innocent baby. There is a nurturing primal instinct we feel that maybe we associate with other primal behaviors like eating. When I look at this face, inexplicable feelings of joy overwhelm me, and I barely know what to do with them. I call it the "Elmyra Effect". If you will recall, Elmyra was the little red-headed character on the children's program, "Tiny Toon Adventures". She would hug and pet cute animals until they could not longer stand it. I am definitely this way when it comes to Stanley. I will hug him and pet him and love him until he gets annoyed with me. I just can't help myself.

I suppose if I tried, I could see my breakfast as, well, "cute":

This is a simple breakfast sandwich that anyone can snap together in under 5 minutes. Best of all, this lush-looking, tasty, toasty, satisfying sandwich is is only 210 calories. It is basically the godmother of healthy breakfasts, bursting with fiber and protein. I like to enjoy this sandwich with a huge mug of piping hot green tea (with a packet of sweet n' low). This is honestly a case where "to good to be true" does not apply. It is easy, healthy, tasty and satisfying....and just adorable:

Ultimate Healthy Breakfast Sandwich:

(Recipe makes 1 sandwich)

1 whole grain english muffin - 110 calories
1/4 c egg beaters (you can also use one real medium egg, beaten*) - 30 calories (egg beaters) / 65 calories (medium egg)
1 wedge laughing cow creamy swiss cheese - 35 calories
1 slice of fresh tomato - 5 calories
1 slice of ham (you can substitute turkey, pastrami or turkey bacon) - 30 calories

Total: 210 calories
*if you use a real medium egg, the calorie total will be about 245.

Toast the english muffin.
Place the 1/4 c egg beater in a small microwave-safe bowl, and place the slice of ham on top of the egg liquid.
Microwave the egg and ham for about 1 minute and 20 seconds (time may vary depending on your microwave).
While egg is in microwave, spread the laughing cow cheese on the toasted english muffin, and add the tomato slice.
When the egg is finished cooking, you should be able to slide it right out of the bowl and onto the sandwich (the ham will be baked into the egg).

Monday, October 18, 2010

Italian-Style Feast for All

It happened about 5 years ago.

I was a student at the University of Florida. One of my best friends in the whole world, Amanda, had an uncle and aunt who lived in Gainesville. They would occasionally invite me and a couple other friends over to their lovely home for amazing home-cooked dinners and some wonderful company. Amanda's Uncle Rich and Aunt Lindy are basically just very cool. They are welcoming, warm and friendly people, and those dinners were always something we looked forward to. I am pretty sure Lindy was the one to introduce me to the idea of the garlic cheddar biscuits that everyone seems to love so much.

There was one dinner I will never forget. Lindy's friend, Karen, was visiting from Michigan. She was going to make her famous Italian-style spread for some hungry college students, craving a home-cooked meal. I don't know that I was prepared for what happened that night. I don't think I have ever feasted the way we did on the plethora of pure indigence that was before us on that table. There were full casserole-sized dishes of several different meats in a rich and savory tomato sauce. There were mounds of pasta to be fork-twirled or just shoveled, depending on your eating pasta-rategy. There were meatballs, sausages and other you can tell I simply cannot recall specifics.

I don't think I realized the extent of pleasure I associated with that meal until I saw a picture in my "Food Network Magazine" in the November 2009 Issue:

Photo from Food Network Magazine, November 2009 Issue

It was one of the first recipes I ripped out of a magazine which ultimately inspired me to make my HUGE recipe binder that I carry around everywhere now (seriously, you can ask my friend, Allison, who spotted me at the dog park, HUGE recipe binder in hand). The picture just reminded me of that glorious spread and how I wanted so badly to recreate it.

I have been holding off making this for a while because #1 I was intimidated by all the work that goes into it and #2 I needed more than 2 mouths to feed to make something so large and labor-intensive. I have to admit that I was ultimately inspired to go through with this Italian feast after watching the episode of "Jersey Shore" where Vinny's mom flies to Miami just to cook for everyone in the house. The meal she made them was just epic, and it really put me in the mood for some hard kitchen work. Feel free to just ignore the previous two sentences if you are either offended, disgusted or both that I watch "The Jersey Shore".I took the opportunity to try it out this weekend as some lovely lovely people were accompanying Zach and me for Sunday night dinner.

Good deal. Love it. You will to if you have an entire day for cooking on your hands.

I do feel I have a responsibility to state that while I was over the moon for the meaty mound of goodness this recipe turned out to be, nothing I ever make will compare with what was on the table that night at Rich and Lindy's house.

Mighty Meaty Italian-Style Feast

(Recipe from Food Network Magazine, November 2009 Issue - recipe serves 6 generously)

3 slices white bread, toasted and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup milk
3/4 pound ground beef
3/4 pound ground pork
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish (optional)
10 cloves garlic; 2 minced, 8 smashed
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 pounds bone-in beef shin (I could not find this anywhere so I used a stewing beef that turned out just fine)
2 pounds Italian sausage (half sweet, half hot), halved (casing removed)
1 medium onion, quartered
3 28-ounce cans plum tomatoes
1 12-ounce can tomato paste
6 bay leaves
1 pound orecchiette pasta (I bought fresh shell-like pasta from Bay Cities Italian Deli) I honestly think it is more important to have fresh pasta than it is to have the orecchiette pasta so do what-cha-gotta do).

*You will need a large pot...a 10 quart pot at least.

Soak the bread in the milk until the liquid is absorbed, about 8 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the ground beef and pork in a bowl with the egg, cheese, minced garlic, parsley, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Add the soaked bread and mix with your hands until combined. Form into 16 meatballs.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the meatballs and cook, turning, until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate. Add the beef shin and sausage to the pot and cook until browned, turning, about 10 minutes. Transfer the meats to a large bowl.

Add the onion and smashed garlic to the pot and fry until soft, about

4 minutes. Crush the tomatoes into the pot with your hands and pour in the juices. Stir in the tomato paste, season with salt and pepper and cook 5 minutes.

Add 5 cups water (I would use about 2-3 next time instead of 5) and the bay leaves, then return the meatballs, beef shin and sausage to the pot, stirring carefully. Bring to a low boil, stir, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer 2 hours, or until the shin meat is very tender. Uncover and simmer until the sauce thickens and the shin meat is falling off the bone, about 1 hour 30 minutes. Transfer all the meats with a slotted spoon to a bowl and cover with foil. Simmer the sauce to thicken, about 20 minutes. Discard the bay leaves.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add the pasta and cook as the label directs. Drain and toss with enough sauce to coat lightly, then top with more sauce and the meat. Garnish with parmesan, if desired.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Falling for Corn

While I do not welcome the cool weather of the fall, I do welcome the seasonal food.

We took Stanley to the dog beach in Huntington Beach this weekend. This was our second visit since Zach's parents visited back in August. Stanley loves making us chase him all over the beach as he gallops from one end of the beach to the other. This is basically our constant view of him:

We revisited the Park Bench Cafe which was really great again! We even ordered Stanley a little bowl of chicken off the "dog menu".

After lunch, we took a walk through the park trail, spotting this creepy crawler:

We are basically enjoying the perfect Southern California weather while we still can! That being said, I love fall vegetables almost as much as I love summer fruits. Pumpkin, squash, broccoli, onions and sweet corn are all such comfort foods to me. Zach and I bought some unbelievably large and flavorful heirloom tomatoes from the Ojai farmer's market along with some sage goat cheese and a sourdough/multigrain baguette. I decided to make that panzanella to use up these delicious ingredients, but I needed something to go with it. I love the combo of corn and tomatoes so I started looking for a recipe for corn cakes or corn fritters.

On our way out of Ojai, there was a bookstore that had a bin of "free books". I scooped up 3 free weight watcher cookbooks (they were the only cookbooks in the bin!). On the way I flipped through and found a corn cake recipe. Score! I know some of you will turn your noses to something I made from the Weight Watcher Cookbook, but these little guys were good. I ended up having to add a lot of extra oil to the pan because my nonstick pan was not really behaving. However, if you use a great non-stick pan, you should be able to get by just fine without adding extra oil.

Rustic Corn Fritters to Welcome the Fall Season

(recipe from "The Weight Watcher's Cookbook 2003" - makes 8 corn cakes/4 servings)

Cooking spray (Use some cooking oil if you need it)
2 C fresh corn kernels (recipe calls for thawed frozen kernels so that is just fine)
1 C chopped zucchini
1/2 C chopped red or green bell pepper (I did not have one so I added extra zucchini and onions to make up for it)
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 C finely chopped green onion
1/4 C all purpose flour
3/4 C yellow cornmeal
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/8 tsp ground red pepper (I used hot paprika since I did not have red pepper)
1/3 C low fat mayo
1/4 C fresh cilantro
1/4 C fat free milk
2 tbsp lime juice
3 large egg whites

The recipe comes with a dreamy cumin sauce, but I went a completely different direction because I did not have cumin! I basically subbed 1/2 tsp of the hot paprika for the cumin and chili powder and left out the red pepper in the recipe below:

Creamy Cumin Sauce:
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/8 tsp ground red pepper
1 (8oz) carton reduced fat sour cream (I used regular)

Serve 2 corn cakes with 1/4 C sauce over them. You can garnish with lime wedges or green onions. This went just perfectly with the panzanella. It was also a nice satisfying vegetarian meal.

NOTE: In case you are curious, one serving of the corn cakes (2 cakes) with the sauce is 4 weight watchers points, 372 calories, 9 grams of fat.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Little Push Goes a Long Way

You know how one little ingredient can inspire a whole meal?

my apologies for this horrible horrible horrible picture

That is what happened this weekend with my apartment. Zach brought me beautiful white roses on Friday before we went to get yummy Greek food and see The Social Network. The movie was followed by curling up on the couch with "puppy" to watch the latest episode of "The Jersey Shore" (so good!). It was just my ideal version of a quiet Friday night...except for one thing...

I love love love having fresh flowers in the house. However, I almost NEVER buy them because I refuse to have beautiful flowers in the middle of a messy apartment. I guess this is me admitting that I don't always keep the tidiest place. I try. I really do. But with work and cooking and the dog shedding it is really overwhelming to keep up. It feels like once I do one thing, there is another tedious task that pops up in it's the apartment is never clean all at once. So Friday night as I sat on the living room couch, I kept looking over to the flowers on the table and feeling like the crisp, clean, white flowers just seemed out of place.

These things usually work out for the best eh? The flowers inspired me to spiff up the entire apartment around them. And by "spiff up" I mean clean for about 6 hours total (between Saturday and Sunday). It is such a drag when you plan to clean so I kind of preferred the pressure the flowers suddenly put on me.

I thought now is a better time than ever to show you some pics of the place. I have been waiting for a good time to take good pictures now that I am pretty satisfied (with a couple exceptions) with how it is all set up. I took some pictures right after the move with the intention of doing "before" and "after" shots. So at the risk of including way too many "before" and "after" shots on this blog, here we are:



These after pics include the canine addition to the regal looking apartment



Bedroom before and after pics were part of a previous post.

Not only was an entire apartment cleaning inspired by some simple flowers, but this recipe was inspired by my need to use a single ingredient: apples, of course. I hope you have not forgotten that I went apple picking a little over a week ago, and I have spent the better part of my mealtime eating apples or some variation of apple dishes.

I decided on some sort of apple and chicken recipe. After a quick search on the internet, I came across a delicious-looking recipe for "Apple and Brie Stuffed Chicken Breast". This may have everything to do with the fact that her new husband's name is Zach, but the blogger's style reminded me of my own. You can check out her blog, "Newlywed in New Orleans" or specifically the post for this recipe here.

Apple and Brie Stuffed Chicken

(ever so very slightly adapted recipe from Newlywed in New Orleans - makes 4 servings)

EVOO for pan
1/2 C chopped sweet onion
1 tart apple, cored, chopped in about 1/2 inch cubes (I used Macintosh because that is what I had!...the recipe calls for Ganny Smith)
1/2 tsp rosemary (original recipe calls for thyme...I didn't have any, but the rosemary worked well! I imagine sage might be nice too.)
3/4 C apple cider
4 oz Brie, without rind, cut in small chunks
4 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Heat oil in nonstick skillet over medium heat.
Add onion, and cook until tender (about 5 minutes)
Add apple, thyme, salt, pepper and cider and cook until apples are tender (another 5 minutes
Turn to low heat and add the brie, mixing until blended (I added the brie separate from the apple mixture because I made the apple mixture ahead in the morning. I actually cut the brie into strips to add to the middle of each chicken breast with the apple mixture.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut a large pocket into each chicken breast, and put a quarter of the stuffing into each breast. (I like to weave a long turkey pin through the open side of the chicken to keep it tightly sealed)
Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of the chicken
Place large skillet over med-high heat, and brown the meat on either side (about 1 minute on each side.
Bake at 400 degrees F for about 30 minutes (more or less depending on the size) or until the juices run clear.

I served this up with mashed potatoes made from the leftovers of my Syracuse Salt Potatoes. Very satisfying!

NOTE: The leftover chicken breasts would be an amazing protein addition to a nice, nutty Waldorf salad. I don't know...something like this perhaps: