Saturday, June 29, 2013

Saturday Soundtrack {and Keeping it Real: Peach Jam Failure Version}

Good morning lovelies!  It's supposed to be hotter than blazes this weekend so I'm trying to think of ways to stay cool and still bake a peach crisp.  Breaking news!  I got my very first smart phone this week (gasp--I know, it's only 2013!) so have been playing around with the new camera feature...hence the mobile pics in lieu of the more traditional, edited, pretty pictures.

Just peachy!  I should try making jam!
I tried my hand at peach freezer jam last night and yes, one must follow the directions when it comes to making jam.  Tough lesson to learn since I have the hardest time following recipes and was improvising my little heart out (even though I knew I shouldn't mess with something temperamental like jam).

I bought pectin!  Excited to make jam!
The flavor of the jam is divine,  it's just a bit soupy.  Reminds me of that scene in Louisa May Alcott's Little Woman when Meg tries to make jam and John finds her on the floor at at home sobbing, "the jelly won't jell!" I'll just call my creation "peach sauce" and all will be well.

Instructions?  Nah.  I refuse to put 4 cups of sugar in 3 cups of peaches thankyouverymuch.

What is everyone doing this weekend?  Pool?  Beach?  Air conditioning?  Walking aimlessly in an air-conditioned establishment so one does not have to run one's own air conditioning? (yep, that's me)

The aftermath of peeling 20 pounds of peaches.  At least I won the fruit-fly battle.
Here's a tune for your Saturday.  Nothing like some Mumford & Sons to get one fired up for a toasty weekend, a long run and recipe creating!


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Burger and Fries {with Curry Ketchup}

Sometimes I just get a hankering for something really comforting.  You know, like a burger and fries.  But not your average fatty beef concoction...I want a gourmet veggie burger situation.  Real life update--some nights I don't feel like cooking from scratch.  I'm a working girl so there are days when some pre-fab options are a lifesaver when I don't feel like chopping/sauteing.

This burger looks and tastes sooo fancy but was such a snap to put together.  Burgers and sandwiches are really a blank canvas.  Have fun!  Get creative and put your own spin on your burger creation.

Here's how this little beauty came together:

*Honey whole wheat bun
*Avocado (I spread it on the bottom bun)  
*Trader Joe's Vegetable Masala burger (any veggie burger would do)
*Roma tomato slices
*Sweet onion slices
*Organic micro greens (Trader Joe's)

Hello gorgeous!
But what burger would be complete without a side of fries?  I'm particularly partial to sweet potato fries. These were a frozen variety (again from Trader Joe's) and I just threw them in the oven for 20 minutes and they were golden brown and crispy.

What do these fries need to kick 'em up a notch?  Curry ketchup, my friends!  Easy peasy.

Curry Ketchup
*Serves 2
*Prep time: 2 minutes
*Kitchen gear required:  Bowl, spoon

1/8 cup ketchup
1/2 tsp. curry powder

Ready, set, go!
1.  Put ketchup in a bowl
2.  Add curry powder
3.  Stir until curry powder is dissolved in the ketchup

Yep, I'd classify that as easy.  This sweet, earthy ketchup takes the fries over the top and makes this burger and fries truly a gourmet treat!  We all need to kick off our shoes and chow down on a healthy burger once in awhile.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to munch on this delightful treat while finishing season 2 of Sherlock. Yes, I am totally obsessed.  But since I've been a die-hard Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fan since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I'm not terribly surprised.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Grilled Shallot and Nectarine Kale Salad

Kale is in.  All the cool kids are eating it.  I've gotten quite a few questions about the best way to cook/eat kale.  Do I steam it?  Eat it raw?  Yes to both.  But it's such a great season for salads so I've been eating it raw lately.  It's such a great green and very versatile.  It doesn't need much to help it be delicious (it already has the nutritious thing down).

A trick I've learned from Rip Esselstyn's Engine 2 Diet is to use a little avocado and get your hands dirty. Mash that avocado into the kale and then let it sit for a bit.  The avocado softens the kale a bit and what ho! Kale is a perfect salad green.

I spy the makings of a plant-strong salad!  I'm so glad peaches, nectarines and blueberries are in season. All is right with the world.

What sends this kale salad over the top is the grilled shallots and nectarines and a splendid oil-free maple syrup/apple cider vinaigrette that is just so sweet and tangy.

Loveliness.  This would be a perfect salad for a luncheon or a wonderful summer supper.

Um, yes.  It was that good.  Perks of prepping and photographing recipes for the blog.  I had to refrain from licking the plate.  That would have been tacky.  

Grilled Shallot and Nectarine Kale Salad
*Serves 4 
*Prep time: 15 minutes
*Kitchen gear required: Cutting board, knife, bowl, grill pan (optional) or skillet

4 cups washed kale, torn into bite-sized pieces (tip: use the Trader Joe's bagged kale to save a step)
1/2 avocado
2 nectarines, halved and pits removed
1/2 cups blueberries, washed (tip: you can use thawed frozen blueberries)
1 large shallot, sliced
2 Tbsp. chopped pecans
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil mist or 1/2 tsp. olive oil (optional)

Ready, set, go!
1.  Put kale in a bowl and add your avocado.  Using clean hands (please) mash the avocado into the kale.  Set aside.
2.  Heat up your grill pan or skillet.  You can spray lightly with olive oil mist or add a dash of olive oil.
3.  Place shallots and nectarines in skillet or on grill pan (you can salt and pepper them if you want).  Grill until you've got nice grill marks on both ingredients.  Keep the heat pretty low so you don't burn the nectarines.  Remove from heat and let cool for a couple minutes.
4.  Slice up your grilled nectarines.
5.  Add blueberries, pecans, nectarines and shallots to the avocado-ey kale.
6.  Combine maple syrup and apple cider vinegar and pour over salad.  Gently toss.  Serve immediately while the nectarines and shallots are still warm. 
7.  Gobble up.  Have seconds.  Or thirds.  This is totally a guilt-free salad!


Saturday Soundtrack

Hope your weekends are off to a wonderful start!  I'm getting ready to go have breakfast with my amazing brother and sister-in-law who are in town.  After that...let the cooking commence!

Inspiration for today's of my favorite tunes from one of my all-time favorite movies.  Ratatouille.  Pixar animation + cooking = Perfection.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My Top 5 Trader Joe's Carbs

Note to self:  Do not go to Trader Joe's hungry.  EVERYTHING looked amazing last night and $76 bucks later I was driving home.  Granted, some of the items I got were staples, like pecans and maple syrup which can definitely add up but last forever.

Sad story--I went to Costco before I went to Trader Joe's specifically to buy maple syrup.  I browsed around, ate a delicious double cream brie cheese sample, and got some other groceries.  I got up to the counter to check out and lo and card had expired in April.  I'd been debating if I should renew my card because I just don't get that many items from Costco so it's not really worth paying the membership fee.  So I left my items there at the checkout counter and walked out empty-handed.  Sadness.  Oh well, I got a delicious bite of brie cheese out of the deal.

So you see, I just had to buy the 5 lb. box of fragrant, crimson nectarines at Trader Joe's to help fill the void left by no longer having a Costco membership!

Despite my impulse buys, I did come away with some of my usual TJs wonderful-ness. 

These are my top Trader Joe's {Carbs} Picks.

1.  Whole wheat pitas.  {I use these to make pita pizzas, pita sandwiches with hummus & veggies or veggie burgers or mock tuna salad}

2.  Corn tortillas.  {So versatile.  I make tacos at least once a week and I think these are the best tortillas.  They smell soooo fresh and good!}

3.  AkMak Crackers.  {Best price in town for these little beauties.  Fabulous with hummus or peanut butter, honey and thinly sliced apples.}

4.  Bean and quinoa chips.  {Growing up we used to get TJ's bean chips--they were divine.  However, they stopped making them and we all cried our eyes out.  While these chips are a bit different they still remind me of the "good old days bean chips."  I purchase these for nostalgia's sake and also because they make insanely good nachos!}

5.  Trader Joe's Microwavable Brown Rice.  {Such a help when trying to throw something together for a quick supper.  I can make a rice and bean bowl or a lentils & rice combo with grilled veggies.  I also love warm brown rice with fruit, almond milk, cinnamon and a drizzle of maple syrup on top!}

Go get thee some carbs from Trader Joe's!


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Skinny & Skinnier Golden Macaroons

It was the best of times, the worst of times-- there has been a glaring absence of sweets on this here blog!  Let's remedy that straight away and talk macaroons.  Coconut is divine.  Even better is when coconut is baked into golden, crisp morsels and drizzled with chocolate.

First, the back story (isn't there always one?):  I decided to make macaroons because 1) I had shredded coconut in my freezer and 2) I've never made macaroons before.  I don't make many cookies these day for health reasons but these turned out great...not the worst thing one could eat--coconut, egg whites, sugar, salt, vanilla--pretty simple stuff.

But (light bulb moment!), what if I tweaked the recipe further and used unsweetened shredded coconut? Would they turn out?  As a matter of a fact, they did!  I actually preferred the unsweetened coconut version vs. the sweetened flakes.  Now this recipe does have egg whites so not technically plant-strong or vegan.  But we'll call it a transition food (following the 90% rule--eat healthy 90% of the time, the other 10% just try not to do something dumb like eat an entire bag of Cheetos.  Yes, guilty as charged.)

Let's begin, shall we?  My sweet tooth is impatient.  First we want to toast the coconut (the pictures you see are of the unsweetened shredded variety).  Once you slide your cookie sheet in the oven, stand guard! This is not the time to fold a load of laundry.  This is the time to rearrange your refrigerator magnets or wonder why there is no oregano in the spice rack.  We don't want the coconut to get too done.  Just nice and golden brown.  If you want a paler macaroon, you can totally skip the toasting of the coconut.  But, I think it really takes these cookies up a notch.

While the coconut is cooling, we mix up egg whites, sugar, vanilla and a pinch of salt.  Then fold in the coconut until everything is combined and friends with each other.

Next,  spoon big tablespoons of the...mixture (it's not a dough so I'm at a loss what to call it) onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet.  Once you've  done that, dip your fingertips in a bit of water and gingerly form the cookies into tidier little mounds...just so they are extra pretty.  I didn't do this step with the first batch of the less healthy ones and they spread a bit too much at the bottom for my liking.  Lesson learned--wet fingertip technique!

Hi there lil' golden macaroons!
Whilst these are cooling, melt some chocolate in a ramekin in the microwave until it's melted.  Drizzle the chocolate with a spoon over the sheet of macaroons and step back and admire your handiwork.

Chocolate and coconut how I love thee

The two recipes standing side by side below.  They are definitely kinfolk, but one is watching it's figure.  I also made the skinnier ones a bit smaller than the skinny variety so I could tell the difference.  {Whoa, adjective and adverb overload!}

Skinny & Skinnier Golden Macaroons
*Makes 12-16 cookies
*Prep time: 10 minutes
*Cooking time: 15-20 minutes
*Kitchen gear required:  Bowl, spoon, cookie sheet, parchment paper, small microwave-proof ramekin

Ingredients (only difference between the skinny vs. skinnier is the coconut)
3 cups sweetened shredded coconut (unsweetened shredded coconut if making the skinnier variety)
1 tsp. vanilla
3 egg whites
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. chocolate chips

Ready, set, go!
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.  Spread coconut flakes on cookie sheet and toast for 5 minutes, watching very carefully to make sure it doesn't burn!
3.  Mix vanilla, egg whites, salt and sugar together in a bowl until totally combined.
4.  Add slightly cooled coconut to the mixture.  Don't put in hot coconut flakes or you will make coconut scrambled eggs--yuck.  Gently mix until everything is combined.
5.  Drop mixture by heaping tablespoon onto parchment-lined cookie sheet.
6.  Use wet fingertips to gently mold each cookie into a shapely little mount;.
7.  Bake cookies for 15-20 minutes until golden.  Remove from oven.
8.  While cookies are cooling, melt chocolate chips in small ramekin/bowl in the microwave at 10-15 second intervals or until chocolate is melted and glossy.
9.  Drizzle chocolate with a spoon over cookies while still on a cookie sheet or cooling rack.
10.  Enjoy!


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Saturday Soundtrack

Let's get this weekend started, shall we?  Looking forward to a day in LA with my sister and some fabulous Ethiopian food downtown!

Our soundtrack today is an oldie, but a goodie.  Have a fabulous weekend, my friends!


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fresh Corn & Tomato Guacamole

I love avocados so much I eat them plain with a spoon!  Or spread them on whole wheat toast with a bit of salt and pepper.  Today, however, they are dressed up so marvelously in this fresh corn & tomato guacamole.  Guacamole is easy, delicious and spices up our everyday foods like tacos, salads, rice & bean bowls, etc., etc.  

Now, to me, guacamole has a couple non-negotiable building blocks--avocados (naturally), onion, lime, and cilantro.  But it is really a blank slate and I had some corn and tomatoes just pining to join the party.  Oh and garlic.  One can never have too much garlic.  Scratch that...yes you can.  We are using it in moderation here so we won't have dragon breath.

I used a fresh ear of corn but an easy shortcut would be to use frozen corn.  I'm going to give my Trader Joe's sales pitch once again--TJs has a fire-roasted corn that is so convenient and would work perfectly here.  But I wanted to live on the edge and hold my ear of corn over an open gas flame so that my apartment would smell like popcorn.  I'm not going to advocate this step as who knows what kind of liability issues I'd run into.  If you had leftover BBQ corn, use that by all means!

Enough chit chat.  Let's make some guacamole!

Fresh Corn & Tomato Guacamole
*Serves 4
*Prep time: 10 minutes tops!
*Kitchen gear required:  Bowl, knife, cutting board, garlic press (optional)

1 large avocado (or 2 smallish if a large one cannot be found)
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed with a garlic press
1 tomato
1 ear of corn (husked) or 1/2 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
1 lime
1/4 chopped red onion
1/4 cup cilantro
Salt & pepper to taste

Ready, set, go!
1.  Cut corn kernels of cob (do this in a shallow bowl so the kernels don't dance across your counter and onto the kitchen floor and your toes.  Or thaw some frozen corn for ease and sanity.  If you use the fresh corn, you don't need to cook it.  The raw corn is perfect.
2.  Scoop luscious avocado into a bowl
3.  Add garlic, corn, lime juice, onion, cilantro, salt & pepper and mix/mash away.
4.  Gently fold in tomatoes.
5.  Serve with veggies, tortilla chips, scoop generously on tacos or salads.  Or, just eat it straight from the bowl.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

You know you have food on the brain when...

You dream you are in a cooking competition and are fairly certain you are winning.  The secret ingredient in my iron-chef-esque battle?  Salt and pepper (original, I know).  I woke up just as I was preparing to wow Bobby Flay and the judges.  Something to do with a gastrique sauce situation.  It was terribly sad to wake up before I knew the outcome.

I think I'll go back to bed and dream of my latte from Sally Loo's in San Luis Obispo.  See you in a few.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Roasted Golden Beet and Arugula Salad

One of my favorite scenes in the children's book Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Clearly (same beloved author who wrote the Ramona books) is when Ellen picks a huge beet from a vacant lot for show and tell.  She proceeds to ruin her school dress with the red beet juice but is so exultant of her find.  That scene has always stuck with me (I suppose it helps that I usually re-read the book every other Christmas along with Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  There.  I've told you my read-specific-children's-books-every-Christmas-secret.  I hope you won't judge.)

I digress.  Back to beets.  They are a bit ugly on the outside, dusty and rugged.  They have been accused of "tasting like dirt" to quote a certain adorable friend of mine.  They also present a bit of a conundrum to the ordinary cook--I mean, we certainly don't want them to be soggy and salty like canned beets now do we?  And we don't want to ruin our clothes with red beet juice.  What's our solution?  Three words:  Fresh Golden Beets. This recipe came to me after a delightful trip to the San Luis Obispo farmer's market this past spring.  And I am happy to say that my friend enjoyed it immensely and said the beets did not taste like dirt at all!  

Ok, ok, there are golden and purple beets in this picture.
 I felt bad leaving the purple beets out in the cold.
We'll use them for something else later this week.
Beets are so good for you--a good source of folate and considered a cancer-fighter.  Also chock-full of fiber.  We are going to roast them and use them to top a delightful arugula salad.

Let's chop these lovelies up!  Cut the beet in half and then in quarters and then cubes.  You can make the cubes as big or small as you like.  I like them medium-sized so they get done quickly but still have a good texture to them.

Throw your cubed beets on a cookie sheet (I like to put down a piece of parchment paper first for easy cleanup!)

Next we'll toss the beets with some rosemary, salt and pepper.  Now, I'll be honest, I would use fresh herbs over dried herbs any day of the week.  However, I didn't buy fresh rosemary because I have this idea that I will plant some on my front patio in the immediate future.  Ahem, that hasn't happened quite yet.  So, I used dried rosemary.  But the moral of the story is--you can use either!  Improvise is my middle name! I used my lovely baby mortal and pestle from the set I got for Christmas from my parents to grind up the rosemary so it wasn't quite so unwieldy.  Isn't it cute?

We'll roast the beets for about 30-35 minutes or until they are tender (but not overdone.  No one wants mushy beets!)

While the beets are roasting, let's make a honey balsamic glaze and neglect to take any photos of the process.  So sorry about that!  It's super easy, promise.  If you aren't wanting to make your own glaze, Trader Joe's has a groovy balsamic glaze in a bottle that is a-maz-ing and you won't have to dirty up a saucepan.  But if you want to make your own, it's so easy and you will want to just eat it by the spoonful out of the pan!  Plus it's a good skill to have in your cooking may very well make another appearance (or many) on this bloggy blog.

Peppery arugula sings a perfect duet with the beets.  Something about the freshness of the arugula is magical with the earthiness of the beets.  Throw on some pumpkin seeds and our balsamic drizzle and we are set!

Roasted Golden Beet and Arugula Salad
*Serves 2-4 depending on serving size, can double/triple/quadruple at will
*Prep time: 15 minutes
*Cooking time: 30-40 minutes (you can do some of the non-beet prep while the beets are cooking)
*Kitchen gear required:  Cutting board, vegetable peeler, knife, saucepan, cookie sheet, measuring cups/spoons, mortar and pestle (totally optional and probably unnecessary but I really wanted to use mine)

3 golden beets
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary (or 1/2-1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary)
1/2 tsp. each salt & pepper
Olive oil mist or 1 tsp. olive oil (optional)
4 cups washed arugula
1/3 cups shelled pumpkin seeds

Honey-Balsamic Glaze:
2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. honey

Ready, set, go!
1.  Wash, peel and chop the beets.  Put salad plates in fridge to chill.
2.  Toss beets with rosemary, salt and pepper and a bit of olive oil or olive oil mist if you are using oil.
3.  Spread beets on parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake for 30-35 min. until tender.  If they aren't done in that amount of time (I don't know if you are using a professional-grade stove or your vintage 1940s stove), just cook them until you can pierce them with a fork.
4.  While the beets are cooking, bring the balsamic vinegar and honey to a boil in a saucepan and then lower the heat until it's just simmering.  Simmer until it's thick and syrupy and then take off heat.
5.  Let beets cool a bit while you put the washed arugula on a plate.
6.  Arrange beets on arugula, sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and top with balsamic glaze.  


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Saturday Soundtrack

I'm winging my way home today from my vacation.  I promise more recipes shall be posted this the meantime, enjoy this fabulous-ness and dance away!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Oregon Bucket List

I heart Oregon.

It's green.  It's beautiful.  And it's home to so many of the people I love.

My Oregon bucket list morphs each time I go but there are some usual constants.

1.  Stop and smell the roses.  Literally.  The flowers, ferns and foliage in Oregon are out of this world gorgeous.  Everything grows--and it smells heavenly.

2.  Get caffeinated at Full City Coffee Roasters in downtown Eugene.  They have perfected the art of coffee.

True, the coffee concoctions are the stuff dreams are made of (and I'm not even a real coffee drinker--just a wannabe).  But it's the moments spent with family that make the oh-so-smooth hazelnut latte go down even easier.

3.  Use Full City caffeine jolt to do something outdoorsy like run Pre's Trail @ Alton Baker Park or go for a walk downtown and enjoy the quirkiness (note hanging wooden birkenstock below).  Wait for caffeine crash and then take a nap.

4.  Always underestimate the weather and have to borrow various articles of clothing (preferably plaid) that add a certain flair to any photo op.  Anchors aweigh me hearties!

5.  Proceed to wear aforementioned article of clothing in many pictures.  Oh, and make and eat lots of yummy, yummy food.  Homemade donuts require complete concentration to prepare (whilst avoiding being splattered by hot oil).  Equal effort is required to decide whether they will be dusted with cinnamon sugar vs. powdered sugar.  Note the concentration being documented by my dear father's iphone.  Iphone + hot grease = recipe for disaster.

Of course the bucket list always includes wonderful meals and get-togethers with family, raucous laughter and multi-generational storytelling and musical offerings--we make our own soundtrack that rivals the crickets' song and the breeze that stirs melodiously through the trees.  Ahhh, pure Oregon.


Monday, June 3, 2013

Oh the Places You'll Go

Well said, Dr. Seuss.  

I love, love, love travelling.  Trips don't always have to be full of adventures.  They can be relaxing, peaceful, fulfilling.  Whether it's a beautiful national park, the Mediterranean, a family reunion or a local weekend gateway, travel soothes my soul.  Sometimes when I feel my life is small, I have to think back to some of the places I've been and count my lucky stars that I've been so fortunate to see amazing places.  But more important than the place itself, it's the memories that forever fix themselves into my being.  So many of my travels are linked to people who are dear to me and are a part of those wonderful memories.  Even moreso, travel stretches a person...gets one outside their comfort zone.  And that is such a GOOD thing!  I remember brushing my teeth on a train platform in Cairo (before taking an all-night train to Luxor), looking at the signs that were in a language I couldn't read or understand, really, really hoping we would get on the right train.  I thought to myself...I can do this!  That feeling has stayed with me.

Today's travel memory is from that time in Egypt circa 2005.  I spent 5 days there with four college comrades and I still consider it one of the best trips of all time.

So, even though I need to go mop my kitchen floor and put away laundry, just a quick walk down memory lane to remind me that my life is full.

Camel ride by Pyramids


Lawrence of Arabia


Valley of the Kings