Sunday, August 29, 2010

Grilled Quesadillas

I adore my grill!!  When we did our backyard, my husband put in a large, high power, gas grill, complete with a large tiled prep area.  He pictured himself as King of the Grill, spending his evenings out there sipping a beer, grilling up all sorts of meals.  That scenario occurred a few times and he was happy.  However... he soon went away on a trip (being an airline pilot he does that with frequency!) and I needed some chicken grilled.   There was no doubt about it... I had to step in for the King.  

It was intimidating.  The flame kicked to life with a noisy "pooof", the chicken sizzled as I later placed it on the hot grates and the heat visibly radiated off of the gleaming cover.  Was it too hot?  Would the chicken be overdone?  Did I do it right??  Not only was the chicken not overdone, it was perfect!!  Amazing if I might say so, and I had grilled it myself.  

Grilled Quesadilla ingredients on bar prep area

This was the beginning of a long standing love story between me and my grill.   My husband has been dethroned, and the grill is mine.  He now looks at it with a touch of intimidation as I approach to grill my pizza, or chicken, or quesadillas.  He tentatively asks, "Are you really going to put pizza dough directly on the grill?  Is that really a good idea?"  Yes!  It's a perfect idea!   I've cooked most every meal possible on my grill, even baking a small loaf of bread (not our best result... that one will definitely take more patience and practice). 

Today had the kitchen area busy with boys and their geometry books, so I headed to my friend, the grill, for our quesadillas.  The prep area being larger than I have inside is a pleasure, and made an easy job of cutting up the vegetables for our meal.  Corn, poblanos, onions, and zucchini were today's choice, along with a tender organic breast of chicken for my meat loving husband.  

My favorite quesadilla cheeses!
With the vegies and chicken nicely cooked, I turned to grating some of our favorite cheeses, jalapeño jack for a bit of spice and tangy yet creamy, perfectly melting Manchego.  Layered on a tortilla, the ingredients easily transferred to the glorious grill for a quick meeting with the high temps.  Just long enough to crisp the tortilla and thoroughly melt the cheeses to hold everything together.  Topped with my favorite diced heirloom tomatoes and sliced avocado we had a meal fit for a King!  Well... a dethroned King and the Grill General.

Grilled Vegie or Chicken Quesadillas

Grilled vegies of your choice - corn, peppers, onions, zucchini, mushrooms, etc.
Chicken, if desired
Cheese - may use store purchased shredded cheeses or you may shred your favorites, cheddar, jalapeño jack, manchego, etc.
Toppings of your choice, sour cream, salsa, diced tomatoes, avocado, guacamole, etc.  

Grill vegetables.

Grill chicken (if using).

Shred cheeses.

Place a layer of cheese on one tortilla, or alternatively on 1/2 of a tortilla.  On top of the cheese, place a layer of vegies, cilantro and chicken.  Top with another layer of cheese.  Carefully, transfer filled quesadilla to grill over the lowest heat setting.  Cover.  Watch carefully and flip when cheeses are "melty".  Cover for another minute or so and remove to a cutting board.  Cut into triangles and serve with your favorite toppings!   

Note:  Sometimes I add a touch of hot sauce or grilled jalapeños for a bit of heat.  My husband loves to add some Pulled Pork if we have it on hand! 

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Chocolate Waffles

Dance Team Try Out Day... the day Liv has been eagerly anticipating for weeks has finally arrived!  Last season she participated on a team of Competitive girls with our local dance studio and had the time of her life.  With the spotlights lighting their way, these amazingly talented girls danced all the way to the Nationals in Vegas last July. 

Dance has been a part of Liv's life since she was born.  At the tender age of 11 months she would hang onto the coffee table, beaming smile on her face, bouncing up and down to the beat of the music.  At 2 she enrolled in her first tap class and "entertained" us with hours of boisterous tapping each and every day.  Today, her feet are rarely still as she sways to rhythms streaming through her head, and she is frequently seen for hours on end in our spare room dancing the day away.   

Liv's first competitive season culminated last July when she attended her first National Competition in Vegas with her team.  Tears streamed down my face as I watched my little girl up there on a Vegas stage, all alone, dancing her heart out.  Her eyes widened first in surprise, and then in sheer excitement as the judges announced her name as the 6th place overall winner for Junior Solos and handed her a trophy!  Here's where I enter into shameless bragging and share the video of Liv's award winning rendition of I'm a Brass Band from the Broadway show Sweet Charity (YouTube link here):

With today being such a special day, I could in no way reject her request for Chocolate Waffles... even though they were not on the healthy pre-dance diet.  We figured we'd add a touch of spelt flour and top them with our farm fresh raspberries from our local Farmer's Market to increase the health benefits and maybe supplement with a banana and yogurt a little later.  As my back was turned, Liv created her own topping, assuring me that whipped cream did indeed have calcium - which we all know is important for growing dancers bones!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Strawbrry Ice Cream

Sometimes being 11 years old isn't all it's cracked up to be.  Mix in the third day of school, the hottest day of the entire summer, lack of sleep, a couple of boring teachers and a 14 year old pesty brother and you have the ingredients for a not so good day.  What better to perk up a little girl's mood than Strawberry Ice Cream?

Living here in Carlsbad we are lucky to have good strawberries within reach nearly year round.  My favorite organic stand at the Farmer's Market is bringing slightly smaller, but no less sweet berries.  They are juicy and bright red.  Not quite as perfect as peak season, but absolutely delicious none the less.  

I am always looking for a reason to use my favorite Tahitian Vanilla Beans that I picked up in Huahine last February, and love the flavor that the tiny seeds add to ice cream.  I like to steep the whole bean in the cream as it heats, but as the mixture will need to be strained before freezing, I don't scrape the seeds in the cream as so many end up getting lost to the strainer.

With a little more than a pint and a half of strawberries on hand I had enough for two small batches of ice cream, one creamy and rich made with full calorie whipping cream, and another an experimental, non-dairy batch using coconut milk as a base.  Both exceeded our expectations and provided a much needed perk up to an special 11 year old girl's day.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Carolina Pulled-Pork Sandwiches

Well used recipes that are splattered and marked up are the best.  That is exactly the case with this pulled pork recipe that I have long since forgotten where I got it from.  The page was slyly torn out of a magazine at some doctor's office, for which I felt guilty for a while.  Now that I look back at how many times I've made these tasty sandwiches and how the simple flavors bring me back to happy times, I'm glad I took that recipe even if it did mean that someone else didn't get to see it!

My notes say that I first made this recipe in 1999... I remember the day perfectly.  I was 8½ months pregnant and for some unexplained reason I prepared a feast for all the neighborhood kids and adults for my son's 3rd birthday party.  Thank goodness my mother was there to help me as I seem to remember my feet swelling to the size of small watermelons shortly after lunch was served.  I don't think I moved for 3 days afterwards and definitely didn't cook again for weeks.

Ketchup is not an ingredient or condiment that I use often.  Frankly, I think it's a tad "yucky".  However... Carolina Pulled Pork calls for what I think is a fairly large quantity of ketchup, and I admit that I keep a bottle on hand simply for this recipe.  Aromatics, spices, pork, and a touch of apple cider vinegar combine in a stock pot with the ketchup, bubbling away for about an hour producing a savory scent that makes your stomach growl in anticipation.  The measurement of apple cider vinegar is perfect, adding just a bit of tang but not overpowering the other ingredients.  Feel free to adjust the cayenne pepper to your taste, although we have found that if you reduce it too much the sauce really loses it's punch, becoming a bit bland.  

Carolina Pulled Pork is often requested by my husband and freezes wonderfully for those nights when he asks for it, but I haven't thought ahead.  On our recent vacation, bowls of this pork were frozen along with our Mexican Casserole for our Feast in the Desert.  Thawed in the fridge and warmed in the microwave or on the stove it makes for an easy, portable dish that is always well received.  My husband has even used the pork in spiced up quesadillas for a quick, tasty lunch.  

Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwich
looted from a dentist's office magazine
We prefer to double this sauce~

¼ cup butter
1 - 2 large onions, chopped
3 -5 cloves garlic, pressed
1 Tbs mustard (recipe calls for powdered, but I use dijon if I don't have powdered on hand!)
1 Tbs paprika (I use 1½ tsp sweet + 1½ tsp hot)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 cups ketchup
3 Tbs brown sugar
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
1 tsp salt
1 whole 5 lb pork roast
soft buns

Place pork roast in a crock pot, cover with water and cover with the lid.  Cook until pork is very tender and falls apart when pulled with a fork.

In a large pot melt butter.  Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook for 1 additional minute.  Add mustard, paprika, cumin and cayenne;  cook for 1 minute.  Add ketchup, sugar, vinegar and water.  Simmer, covered for about 30 minutes.  Uncover and simmer for 30 minutes more.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  (Can be made 2 days ahead;  refrigerate, covered.  Heat before using.)

After the pork is cooked, place in a large bowl.  Shred.  Add sauce and mix until combined.  Spoon heaping amounts onto toasted buns and watch for smiles of pleasure!! 

Note:  I usually double the sauce as we prefer our pork to be "saucy". 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Lemon Blueberry Scones

The house is very quiet... too quiet.  I've cleaned up the kitchen, fed the puppies, started laundry and all the while my mind is on the kids and their first day of school.  Today my baby boy started high school.  He walked off so tall and confident, never once looking back.  So unlike that first day of kindergarten 9 years ago when he suddenly realized that Mommy wasn't going to be staying with him and the tears began to flow.  Growing up is hard... on me!  

The First Day of School always commands a special breakfast and today was no different.  Lemon Blueberry Scones were still warm from the oven as the sleepy eyed kids made their way downstairs in the semi darkness of 6:20 AM.  Their eyes lost the sleepy look as they fueled up for the day and we headed out (Liv with another scone in her lunch bag!) to start the year.  

Frozen blueberries with condensation

The dough will be sticky...

Scones with raw sugar sparkling in the sun!
Light and airy, these blueberry scones were a wonderful way to begin or morning.  While I usually prefer the denser, crusty scones that command lots of butter, these were a lovely, somewhat healthier start to our day with only ¼ cup.  Buttermilk provided a nice, tender crumb, and the lemon combined with blueberries is always a favorite.  Personally, raw sugar on top of scones providing a bit of crunch is always my favorite part, so even though this recipe did not call for the raw sugar, as there is a glaze, I brushed the tops with milk and added the sugar anyway!  The scones were good without the glaze, but with the glaze they attained an excellent status!

5 hours remain until the first day of school lets out.  I know the kids will both do just fine, Spanish, algebra, geometry, biology, etc.  I think I'm glad I'm not there.  But I sure do miss them here...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Peanut Butter Rice Krispie Treats

Peanut butter and chocolate... two of may all time, absolute favorite ingredients.  Mix them together and they actually become even better as one!!  What's not to love about the simple Reese's Peanut Butter Cup??  I happen to carry a couple in my pockets when I ski... just in case of emergency.  The energy boost alone makes them a perfect pick me up, but adding in the fact that they are a perfect flavor combo (in my opinion!) makes them just that much better. 

My love of peanut butter developed before I actually have memories.  I can't remember a time without it.  Then one day when I was in Jr. High I complained to my Mom about what she was making me for lunch.  Big mistake!  I soon realized that may not have been one of my best moves when she replied that I could now make my own lunches.  Hence, I had peanut butter and apricot jelly sandwiches for a solid year! 

When I was in college, a friend of mine and I would frequently stop at little restaurant on the wharf in Tiburon, CA... Sam's.  Roy always ordered a full meal, dinner or lunch of some real substance as we enjoyed the afternoon sunshine watching the boats sail by, but I always ordered the Peanut Butter Pie.  For some 20 years I have attempted to recreate Sam's recipe, but to no avail.  I'm still on the search for the perfect recipe - just the right texture, the optimum combo of chocolate and peanut butter, the perfect mouth feel.  (Feel free to post any links if you have one!!)

Bringing us closer to the present, Michelle, of the Brown Eyed Baker, posted this Peanut Butter Cup Rice Krispie Treat a few weeks ago.  Just her pictures made me swoon!  Add in her descriptive, mouth watering narrative and you have a must do recipe. 

These Rice Krispie Treats are so good that we have made them not only once, but twice, most recently for dessert on our recent trip with a few friends to the desert.  When one's 14 year old son takes a bite and the eyes go wide, accompanied by a "Wow... these are awesome!" comment one knows she has a hit!  Follow this up by a horde of kids and adults all scrambling for the largest piece accompanied by smiles of pleasure, and we know that the hit wasn't luck, it's that good.

Freeze the Peanut Butter Cups slightly for easier chopping!
Just for demonstration... directions have you mixing the peanut butter cups in a bowl with the peanut butter.  This shot shows how well the correct amount covers the top of the treats!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Mexican Chicken Casserole

112º in the shade is hot... darn hot.  As our last few days of summer vacation tick away, we are enjoying this darn hot weather sitting by a pool in Palm Springs.  The condos at Shadowridge have full kitchens and my friends and I have produced a couple of amazing meals in lieu of eating out. 

The day of our arrival our travel companions gave us an excellent meal.  I actually think they felt sorry for me after my 4½ hours of school registrations before our 2 hour drive to the desert!  I was beyond extraordinarily thankful to be greeted with a tasty, tropical, rum concoction reminiscent of our vacation together a few years earlier at Atlantis in the Bahamas.  This was quickly followed by bean dip, a mouth watering pasta casserole (blog post coming soon!), grilled chicken and a rubbed tri tip. 

The next evening brought my turn to cook in the desert.  Planning ahead, I timed the purchase of my avocados perfectly as they ripened on the correct day for my husband's special request of homemade guacamole.  His favorite Mexican Casserole had been assembled at home and frozen for simple, pop into the oven preparation.  Our favorite side of this summer, Cilantro Lime Corn, was easy to toss together by pre-grilling the corn and poblano peppers at home, leaving the ingredients ready to be stirred together at the last minute.  Angie's amazing Tomato Onion Salad, and a pot of creamy refried beans rounded out our dinner.  Ah... not to forget Michelle's (The Brown Eyed Baker), decadent Peanut Butter Rice Krispie Treats (blog post on that one coming soon too!).

With the southwestern flavors of this Mexican Casserole mixed together and topped with a dollop of sour cream, guacamole and diced tomatoes, then lightly sprinkled with a heaping spoonful of crushed tortilla chips, this recipe has become one of our most repeated.  Preparing and freezing beforehand makes it very portable and easy for weekends out of town or simply that quick, "I need something from the freezer" evening.  The addition of extra vegies and a can of black beans added a bit of variety to the casserole, making it almost a full meal in a bowl. 

Three short days remain of summer vacation... I'm really not ready to face the gauntlet of papers, volunteer requests and loss of my kids again as the school year ramps up.  Having them home during this all too brief summer break has been a true gift.  Time is moving far too quickly... my baby boy is becoming a man.  He is already 5 inches taller than I am and really doesn't need Mommy any more.  My daughter is entering Middle School and I know that she will begin her transition from little girl to pre-teen over these next few months and will quickly become that full fledged teenager.  We have one more day here in the desert...  I plan to enjoy each and every moment!!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Heirloom Tomato Onion Salad

Summer is here!!  I know it's mid August and the rest of you have been suffering with sweltering, sultry temperatures for the last few weeks, but here in San Diego we are finally getting a touch of summerlike weather.  The sun is shining, (although it didn't show itself until 10 AM), it's above 72º and I'm finally warm.  I can still see that gray marine layer off the coast, but I'm absolutely ignoring it and pretending it's not there.

Summer makes me want toss together flavorful ingredients for lighter, fresh sides.  Angie, of Angie's Recipes, provided the perfect salad for our hello to summer dinner.  A light, absolutely refreshing salad using our coveted heirloom tomatoes and tossed with peppery arugula in a tasty vinaigrette perfectly describes her Tomato Onion Salad.  I discovered this salad about a week ago and have already made it twice with raving reviews both times. 

The ease of tossing the salad together and adding the vinaigrette at the last minute added to my love of this dish.  A few shakes of a small jar combined the dressing ingredients quickly and easily with the garlic adding another element to the depth to the flavors.  Amazing how such a small amount of this fragrant herb can work such wonders!

Thanks Angie for an excellent salad!! This will be one of those recipes that I look back 10 years from now and say "Ah.... I remember the first time I made that salad!  It was the beginning of summer ~ 2010." 

So join me in raising my glass (well... actually my fork) in welcoming our long lost summer.  May he see fit to return tomorrow!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Cilantro Lime Corn

Corn seems to be my salad ingredient of choice this summer.  I seem to see enticing recipes everywhere I look and with our local Farmer's Market chock full of every color of corn I can't seem to help myself.  

Several years ago, when I actually worked at a real job (who knew that was so much easier than being a stay at home mom??!!), I drove through rows upon rows of corn fields in Woodland, CA on the way to my office.  On my way home I would stop at a little stand on the side of the road and pick up 10 ears for a dollar.  Usually these precious ears had been picked within the hour and were still warm from the sun.  I didn't know how lucky I was to have that little stand until I moved away and could only get corn in the produce section of the local Kroger.

Fast forward 15 years and I am back in California with endless Farmer's Markets to choose from and tables upon tables of corn.  While these ears have been picked a bit more than an hour prior, they are still crisp and fresh.  Todays market booty included a mixed bag of yellow an white corn from my favorite corn vendor at the Vista Farmer's Market.  His table was piled high with ears that we eagerly packed up along with a handful of other goodies (zucchini & mushrooms).  As we meandered on we discovered a vendor whose table was filled with numerous varieties of crisp and colorful peppers.  The sunny yellow and orange Fresnos, shapely poblanos and spicy jalapeños were added to our treasures.  Fresh, brilliant green, organic cilantro was found a few tables down and our salad ingredients were complete. 

Sometimes I am amazed how just a few ingredients can combine to become something so extraordinary.  Cilantro Lime Corn is just that, a side dish bursting with amazing flavor.  These 6 ingredients whip together in a flash and would be equally as delicious hot or cold.  The lime adds a delightful tang that ties together the poblano and corn, accented by the cilantro.  

All in all, I think I have to say this is one of the most successful recipes from our 2010 summer season!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Two Bean Salad

In my quest to cut carbs and reduce the "blog roll" (meaning my increasing waistline due to my recent carb loaded blog writing!) that is causing my jeans to fit a tad snugger than I would like, I reached for an old favorite.  Two Bean Salad has been a "go-to" salad recipe for as long as I can remember.  I think it was loosely based on a recipe I found in a magazine years and years ago, but it has evolved into something that is all mine.   My neighbors have all had it numerous times and many of them even make their own versions.  

Something about the combination of these ingredients and how the flavors meld together makes my mouth water.  Sometimes I serve it as a side and love that it goes with nearly whatever I am serving, or frequently I simply serve it over warm brown rice for a meatless, summer meal... perfect for when that summer heat is overwhelming (not that I know what that feels like this year!!).

However you choose to serve it, I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do.  A little taste of summer in a bowl always does wonders for the senses!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Mango Salsa

Summerish weather has finally hit here in Not-So-Sunny San Diego!  Fog still blankets us in the morning, but thank goodness the sun gods have seen fit to let the sun shine on us during the day.  I can't tell you what a difference a good day of sun makes on one's outlook!

With energy to burn we filled our day with "summerish" events (beach and shopping!) and came home to plan an evening meal in the gorgeous, sunny outdoors.  With a fresh pork tenderloin in the fridge and perfectly ripe mangoes on the counter we opted one of our all time summer favorites.  Spices from our pantry mixed together to create a slightly spicy and extraordinarily flavorful rub for the meat, and fresh mangoes, jalapeños, onion, a touch of lime and cilantro quickly combined for our delightfully contrasting sweet salsa.

The spice rub is one we have been using for a few years and has become our "go-to" rub when time is a bit short.  I mix up a batch and found some cute little storage bottles at an outlet store to keep whatever I have remaining so that I always have some on hand.  The bottled rub also works wonderfully for a cute hostess gift!

This is one of those meals that all comes together on the grill for those hot (or just plain nice) days when you don't want to cook inside.  Corn from the market and a buttered baguette joined the pork on the grill and with the addition of a side salad our meal was complete. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Pizza Pretzels

I've recently discovered that writing a food blog can lead to tighter jeans... either that or the heat on our dryer is definitely too high!  With my recent plethora of carb loaded recipes I decided that today was the day that I was going to go back to my low carb, lean protein diet for a few days, no cookies, no chocolate cakes and no breads.  However... Liv had other plans.

After her successful day at our local Junior Lifeguard Competition where she place 2nd in the Beach Flag event, she woke up this morning with aching heels and a craving for the Pizza Pretzels that we have been planning to make since school got out.  She and her dance friends frequently get pizza pretzels at our local smoothie shop, Beach City Smoothies, here in downtown Carlsbad and we thought we'd give them a try at home.

Shaping the pretzels seemed to be the most difficult part of this recipe for us, as making the dough and topping the formed pretzels is just like making a pizza.  Our recipe recommended making the dough the night before baking and giving it a good night's rest in the fridge.  Adding the spices directly to the dough gave the pretzels a full depth of flavor that we have found lacking in other pretzels that only have spices on top of a plain pretzel. 

The baking soda/water bath was a bit nerve wracking for us, but proved to be a piece of cake.  Placing the baking soda into the hot water and dissolving is recommended just before you dip your pretzels for a few seconds into the water bath.  The baking soda/water bath allows the pretzels to gain a shiny, brown crust with a light interior.  Unfortunately, I think our measurements were a bit off and we hadn't realized that the baking soda should be added to the bath and dissolved immediately before dipping.  As such, our pretzels were a bit more breadlike, but I can see how this will work for our future batches. 

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Coconut Biscotti

Swaying palms, soft air, warm turquoise waters... ahh... this is my happy place.  I go there on occasion when things get just a little too crazy around here.  I just close my eyes, take a few deep breaths and for a few glorious moments I am sitting on a white sand beach wriggling my toes in the warm, soft sand.

6 months ago, I went there with my husband... in real life!  Our household had been a bit hectic (that comment is actually the worlds largest understatement!) and Mommy was close to "the edge".  5 days before our departure my amazing husband suggested a trip to the South Pacific for a 12 day cruise including 6 different islands on a small ship sailing out of Papeete, Tahiti.  I looked at him like he was crazy... as if I could get all my duties covered, pack my bags, throw a Super Bowl party for 50 and get out of here in 5 day.  Well, thanks to my mom and a small village of wonderful girlfriends, we did it!!  And I'm here to attest that I had the much needed, well deserved, and fully enjoyed, tropical vacation of a lifetime.  (You can actually read my review and see pics on Cruise Critic here). 

Brilliant, warm turquoise waters combined with soaring majestic peaks.  Lush emerald vegetation met up with  dazzling blue skies filled with pillows of white clouds.  And there I was, sailing through it all.  For twelve gorgeous days we sailed the South Pacific with our fellow guests, getting to know many of them during our travels.  We particularly enjoyed a couple we met at the airport on our departure from LAX who hail from Palm Desert, just a few hours from us.  

Bob and Susie truly exemplify what Liv Life stands for... they genuinely live everyday and have gleaned more from life than many of us ever will.  Dinners on our voyage were filled with stories from before we were born taking us to distant lands, romantic ski trips and lives that are full and memorable. 

Yesterday we had the pleasure of visiting Bob and Susie again and in honor of our recent tropical voyage I brought some of my favorite Coconut Biscotti.  This crisp cookie, adapted from Cooking Light, is enhanced with a teaspoon of coconut oil and a dash of nutmeg.  The flaked coconut adds a touch of texture  and gives a wonderful, light coconut flavor - reminiscent of the South Pacific.

So kick off your shoes, close your eyes and come with me to Bora Bora!  With our Coconut Biscotti in hand we can all enjoy a moment of blissful peace in the midst of our busy, overfilled, hectic lives and enjoy a touch of tropical balance for the rest of the day.

Coconut Biscotti
adapted from Cooking Light

¾  teaspoon  baking powder
¼  teaspoon  salt
¼  teaspoon  baking soda
⅛  teaspoon  grated whole nutmeg
¾  cup  sugar
1  teaspoon  vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut extract
2  large eggs
1  cup  flaked sweetened coconut
1 ½  cups  all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 300°.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups and level with a knife.  Combine flour and next 4 ingredients (through nutmeg) in a small bowl and whisk to combine.  Place sugar, vanilla, coconut extract and eggs in a large bowl;  beat with a mixer at medium speed 2 minutes or until thick.  Add flour mixture and flaked coconut, stirring to combine (dough will be very sticky).   Turn the dough out onto a heavily floured surface and knead lightly 7 or 8 times.  Shape the dough into a 15 x 3-inch log and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silicone liner.  Pat the log to 1-inch thickness and bake at 300° for 40 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool for 5 minutes on a wire rack.

Move roll to a cutting board and cut diagonally into 20 (1/2-inch-thick) slices.  Return the slices to the baking sheet, standing them upright (not on either side as this allows both sides to be baked at the same time and does not require turning half way through baking).  Return the baking sheet to the oven and bake 20 minutes - note that the cookies will be slightly soft in center but will harden as they cool.  Remove the cookies from the baking sheet and cool completely on wire rack. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Chocolate Red Wine Cake

For the last few days I've really been trying to cook and eat healthier.  Lower carbs, lean proteins and definitely no cake, cookies or chocolate chips (my daily afternoon pick me up).  Well... maybe a few chocolate chips, as we all know how good dark chocolate is for us and I don't want to deprive my heart of those healthy antioxidants.  

I had a good few days, but unfortunately I woke up yesterday with chocolate cake on my mind.  I tired to push the thought away with some hummus and broccoli, but the craving quickly returned.  My chicken lunch with those fresh, rosy peaches that I've been waiting for all season didn't do it either.  As I hesitantly approached my collection of recipes thinking "Oh... I shouldn't be doing this...", I subtly pulled out Food and Wine's Chocolate Red Wine Cake.  I happened to have an open bottle of red wine (those antioxidants again) and what a perfect pairing it would be with the cocoa!  After all, I had made this cake a couple of weeks ago hoping to post it here and didn't get any good photos.  Convincing myself to make it again just for the photos was easy.

Scanning the ingredients and noticing those two sticks of butter caused a momentary feeling of guilt... I toyed with the idea of substituting some yogurt as I do frequently to decrease oils and butters in breads, cakes or brownies.  However, in this case, I decided that I was somewhat concerned how the tang of the yogurt would work with the wine.  Next time I might give that a try, but for this version I went full fat, butter all the way.  The only other change I might make is to add a handful of chocolate chips to the batter.  I love the texture that the chips give to breads and cakes. 

The chocolate cake is moist and offers a hint of the fragrant red wine.  My husband immediately noticed the lack of sweetness in the cake, which for me was a huge plus, but was somewhat missing for him.  I did find that I prefer the cake the day after it is made as the flavors somehow become... well... for lack of a better word, better.  Perhaps it is the ever so slight increase in the intensity of the flavor or the texture that is no longer even slightly warm from the oven.  Not to say that I didn't fully enjoy this cake yesterday, but I'm eagerly awaiting my first slice this morning as I sip my coffee.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Heirloom Tomato - Watermelon Salad

Happy National Watermelon Day!!

In my short time of blogging I have come to learn that there are more National Food Days than there are days in the year.  Liv was particularly excited about January 5th, National Whipped Cream Day, and March 25th, National Waffle Day.  Unfortunately, we didn't know that yesterday was National Ice Cream Sandwich Day, but I'm right on track to celebrate National Watermelon Day today!

Watermelon has always been a summer favorite in our household.  In a prior post (Sesame-Chile Chicken with Gingered Watermelon Salsa) we discussed methods of finding the perfect melon, and I'm still holding on to the theory that no matter what your method, it involves a fair amount of luck.  Luckily, luck was with us as we chose our special Watermelon Day watermelon!

Bright red, juicy and extraordinarily flavorful, we had the perfect melon for our Heirloom Tomato-Watermelon Salad.  Also on hand, I had a one pound, beautiful, perfectly ripe, Brandywine Heirloom Tomato.  I have never combined watermelon and tomato before and was frankly surprised at how well the two ingredients complemented each together.  The original recipe from Epicurious calls for fresh herbs such as mint, basil and dill, but somehow the dill didn't sound quite right to me.  I used only the mint and basil in about equal parts and produced a light, summery side salad.  The feta cheese crumbled on top provides a welcome saltiness and the fresh arugula gives a nice contrasting texture and peppery bite.  

With our third day of mid day sun shining down on us (it's still cloudy and gray every morning...), we fully enjoyed this salad with our meal outside on the patio.  Tomorrow is National Lasagna day, but I don't think that is going to work for me.  However... I'm wondering if it would be wrong to celebrate National Drink Wine Day (Feb. 18th) in it's place?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Manchego Jalapeño Cornbread

Corn seems to be our "vegetable" of choice this summer.  As I mentioned that to my 14 year old son last night he proceeded to tell me, "Mom... everyone knows that corn is not a vegetable, it is a fruit."  I guess somewhere back in the remote regions of my mind I knew that, but it still seems to fall into the vegetable category for me when I think of meal planning.

As my son and I continued our conversation he pulled out the lap top and proceeded to explain that my mistake was not uncommon.  For instance, tomatoes, peppers, snap peas, cucumbers and eggplants are all fruits that are commonly referred to as vegetables.  Something about the fruit having a seed, he said.   8th grade science had covered this subject, and well, I guess he was listening!

As such, I will restart my post:  Corn seems to be our "fruit" of choice this summer!  Our menus have featured it in salads, side dishes, soups and now bread.  This bread was featured on July 19th in The Cilatropist's post Cheesy Jalapeño Cornbread and immediately caught my eye.  Anything spicy and with a Mexican flair is usually a hit with my husband, and this spicy, cheesy, cornbread was no different.